Resources Article

Disagreeable: An Inclusive Cultures Blog

Inclusive Cultures 2022 participant Cate Gordon reflects on her experience.


Early in the Inclusive Cultures programme, someone called me to say they had a complaint. They used the word ‘escalating’.

Escalating, to me? Ah – they think I know the answers.

Quietly, I’d got some sort of authority. This was worrying because it can stop people disagreeing with you.

At the time, I was working on something sensitive and complicated. I wanted people to disagree – to get the creative and clever ideas, to get the best outcome, and to make sure that as far as possible, everyone was bought in to what we eventually did. How do you signal that? How do you make space for people to tell you they see things differently?

I have never heard the word ‘provocation’ so much, but that’s what Inclusive Cultures was – a starting point, a nudge. Time to think aloud. No right answers. The team modelled how to engage people in challenging conversations without fear or defensiveness. I took away things like:

  • Share generously
  • Let people see you be questioned
  • Offer different ways to participate
  • Give many chances to speak up

We had many chances to develop ideas, spread over months. At first I wondered if the pace would be a problem – there’s big gaps between sessions, and surely we would lose momentum? I’m addicted to moving forwards. Another ah moment – of course, of course there’s more space when you take time.

But this is sounding dangerously like a how-to guide now.

I’m grateful for the ‘slow-down’ wisdom of the group when I was working with the type of disagreement with no end. The peer-group I was part of helped me stop going round and round (and round) a situation and just take forward what I could. I’m thinking of a particular person who felt excluded, by me and my decisions. Although I created the space to hear what they needed, ultimately I couldn’t give it to them. Saying ‘I’ve done what I can’ is uncomfortable and unsatisfactory when you know that a real person disagrees. A heavy weight.

Perspective. There’s some things I can’t fix today! We disagree, and sometimes, for now, that’s as far as we get. I’m falling into my own trap here – I expect to have answers, too. It’s been escalated to me, after all!

Themes Alumni Journeys Coaching & Mentoring Inclusive Leadership Practice