Are You Free to Disagree?

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We have all worked in organizations that get caught in group think, or that stagnate. We have all experienced projects with people who aren’t open to feedback, who are passive, or who just echo without adding.

For most of us, it is instinctual to avoid conflict. We don’t want to deal with it or the impact it might have on our relationships or mood. We get frustrated, and vent to our partners, friends, and family after work and on weekends, but, when we’re in the office, we do what we can to maintain the peace.

A few years ago I came across a TED talk, Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree, that presents an interesting concept; the idea of Constructive Conflict. Margaret is a captivating storyteller, and I would recommend watching the short (12 min) talk.

In it, she expresses that “thinking” in an organization comes from people pushing to disprove each other, and that progress is achieved when people accept “disagreements” as a fuel for growth.

“So how do organizations think? Well, for the most part, they don’t. And that isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s really because they can’t. And they can’t because the people inside of them are too afraid of conflict.”

“In surveys of European and American executives, fully 85 percent of them acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise. Afraid of the conflict that that would provoke, afraid to get embroiled in arguments that they did not know how to manage, and felt that they were bound to lose. Eighty-five percent is a really big number.”

Managing different perspectives, and using disagreements as fuel for progress is challenging for any organization. It requires deep-seated respect for your colleagues, and an understanding that your best outcome will come as a result of a potentially challenging conversation. The best companies in the world recognize and encourage disagreements as a tool for finding the best possible solutions. The people in these organizations do not take these differences in opinion or perspective personally; they understand that, together, they are thinking.

In your organization, are you free to disagree? If you push back on an issue, how will your colleagues, managers, or subordinates react? Is there enough underlying respect for people to question each other’s logic or solutions?

Practice thinking with your team by trying to disprove each other, and your potential results will be far greater than the team that is scared to disagree.

Jeremy Hamel

Jeremy oversees Product at CultureIQ. He rides an electric scooter to work and organizes our team hikes each Fall and Spring. Nearly every time he eats a slice of pizza he jumps the gun and burns the roof of his mouth.


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