One of my favorite things about Agile is how it helps teams get committed toward a shared goal. There are so many distractions and confusions, that we need to double down ways to help people get and then stay on the same page. In some cases, it comes down to something as simple as word choice!
First, I feel like I need some explanation…
There comes a time in any disagreement when the team needs everyone to get on the same page even if they don’t agree. As a rule, this should be a relatively small window (maybe 20 minutes max) because the team can defer issues by having a sprint long spike* or exploration story that collects more information to settle arguments down the road.
Personal Experience Note: A team should NEVER spend much time arguing about the mid or long-term future! It’s just not worth the time to convince someone that your vision is more compelling. It’s more efficient to accept that there are MULTIPLE VALID FUTURES and that the team needs to watch to see which one(s) is taking shape. There is no need to be “right” about the future.
So, back to the fake agreement phrases that effective teams avoid.
#1 “Yes, but…”
This statement really means “Will you shut up already? I don’t agree.” The speaker says “yes” to acknowledge the first person has finished; however, it does not mean that they agree. The confusing thing is the speaker typically does not even realize that they are sending you into a discussion death spiral.
Anytime someone says “but” then they are disagreeing. Just for fun, trying have discussions where people are not allowed to say but – it creates a whole new positive dynamic.
#2 “I don’t disagree”
This statement really means “You are full of shit and my opinion is more right.” The speaker is trying to avoid addressing your points directly and refocus discussion on their opinion. Agreement means that everyone believes the same thing. There are many ways to not agree and only one way to agree.
This is one of my pet peeves because the speaker thinks they are rewarding you with some back-handed pat on the head. In reality, they shutting your ideas down without validation or acknowledgement.
There are many such statements that waste team time and mask disagreement. If you have some that bug you, please comment on this post and add to the dialog. I’m sure that I won’t disagree with any of them!
* Spike stories are time bounded stories that have specific research or opinion deliverables. They are intended to collect enough information that the team can take action and move forward. Sometimes these are also called “time box” stories.