Difference is all there is. Opening our minds to disagreement.

By Elisabeth Goodman, 20th March 2022

Why this blog

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a blog. This has been partly due to hitting a really busy period with my one-to-one and group coaching. It’s also because I’m immersed in writing a book and all the reflection that goes with it. This isn’t the Wellbeing Musings book that I’ve mentioned before, although that is continuing to progress. It’s another book, about how self-development impacts the quality of our coaching. I will put a blog out about that soon.

What’s got me writing a blog again though, is the combination of reading Nancy Kline’s third beautiful book(1) in readiness for a course I am attending in a few days’ time, and Julia A. Minson and Francesca Gino’s article in the March-April issue of Harvard Business Review(2). What they have in common are some wonderful insights on how we can open our minds, get beyond the apparent polarities of different points of view, and enrich ourselves and our work as a result.

Fear of disagreement is something that comes up a lot in my work with managers, and with individual team members, so writing a blog that explores the juxtaposition of these two sources was irresistible. I’ve had some fun with illustrating the key concepts too.

Recognising and valuing our differences expands our intelligence

Nancy Kline has a beautifully playful way of writing. She shares what seem like very deep insights in a misleadingly simple style. Her latest book includes a wealth of information to help us be more effective listeners: to listen in a way that “ignites” the mind of the person doing the thinking. I’m just exploring one aspect of the book in this blog – where she deals with the subject of recognising and valuing our differences.

I do believe her when she says that we indulge in false polarisations between feeling that people are either very different to us, or just like us.

Labels can be misleading, and we are all human underneath. What separates us is our experiences.

If we are prepared to consider that other people also come to their views from a position of caring about things, then we can start a dialogue and, as in Kline’s quote from Humberto Maturana, start expanding our intelligence.

I’ve inserted Minson and Gino’s two points about cultivating a receptive mindset, and picking your words into the illustration, as I feel they fit so well alongside the middle or third way of Kline’s false polarity. I’ll explore the two points, and the significance of “I HEAR you” in the next section.

Tips for opening our minds to disagreement

Minson and Gino’s article is all about how to foster discussions in organisations when there are opposing points of view. They carried out a survey in 2021 where 85% of the 486 respondents indicated experiencing conflict at work. They too refer to the problems of polarisation, and the need to break through this in order to foster discussion and all the benefits that go with it.

Interestingly, their findings suggest that people don’t have the discussion because they assume that the other person won’t have an open mind, and that the discussion will be unpleasant and pointless as a result.

I’ve picked out three of the four ways that they suggest will break this impasse:

  1. To defuse the fear of disagreement
  2. To cultivate a receptive mindset
  3. To pick your words

[The fourth way was about culture – such as adopting a receptive tone from the start of the conversation and, as a leader, being a role model.]

Defusing fears of disagreement echoes some of Kline’s ethos, such as listening without challenging – that can start to create a climate of safety and trust.

I’ve inserted Kline’s concept of being “interested” rather than curious under the second heading in the illustration (cultivating a receptive mindset). Kline suggests that being “interested” is more outward orientated, towards the other person, to understand their perspective, which is what Minson and Gino advocate. Whereas being “curious” is still more about the listener’s perspective.

I like Minson and Gino’s listening “triangle” as a way of seeking and demonstrating receptiveness and understanding, and also their recommendation of having a learning mindset.

For the third approach, picking your words, Minson and Gino have an acronym “HEAR” which is also rather neat. It feels like a very diplomatic approach. I’ll be curious (or is it “interested”) to see and hear how this approach in particular would work for the people I work with, some of whom would usually advocate a more direct form of communication!


  1. Kline, N. (2020) The promise that changes everything. I won’t interrupt you. Penguin Life, UK
  2. Minson, J.A. & Gino, F. (2022) Managing a polarized workforce. How to foster debate and promote trust. Harvard Business Review, March-April, pp. 63-71

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