Friday, May 3, 2013

Don't Kill the Dissenter!

Troubleshooter, devil’s advocate, dissenter- these are all terms that we use to label people who pose a different point of view to the presenting issue. Why is it viewed as such a negative thing when someone has an opinion outside of the group norm?

We have all been at a meeting where some new idea is purposed and the yes-men jump on the bandwagon immediately. The “ooohs” and the “ahhhhs”  cloud the overall conversation, while others begin buzzing with excitement. And then someone raises a hand and asks, “But what about _____________ (insert unresolved step in the plan)?” And everything goes silent- eyes are rolling (Oh, here we go again!), people become restless, and the energy in the room turns bad.

Sure, there are people who get off on pointing out flaws just for fun. Regardless, wouldn’t you rather hear the flaws in the boardroom and put measures in place to correct them BEFORE there is a bigger issue later? It takes way less energy to be proactive as opposed to constantly reacting to solve crisis situations.

I think it’s time for people to embrace the dissenter! Hear them out before you assume they are just trying to make things difficult. Perhaps, they have not understood the new plan in its entirety and need to hear the details before they agree. Or maybe they paid attention to a particular part in the plan that has yet to be fully developed. Or maybe they just found a hole in your logic.  It does NOT mean that they are not on the group’s side. Chances are good that if they are working with you, they have just as much stake in a plan working than you do.  Most of the time, dissenters just want to make sure all of the bases are covered before moving forward with a half-hatched plan.

Ever heard of a little social phenomenon called groupthink? If you haven’t, you should check it out. Basically, highly cohesive groups of people will uphold the values and decisions of the group in order to maintain harmony. People do not point out their “negative” reactions and they avoid bringing controversy into the conversation. The problem with groupthink is that the group gets an inflated sense that what they are doing is “right.” A lot of crazy things can happen when groups decide that they no longer want anyone around who doesn’t think that everything they do is perfect.

My point is this: alternate points of view are necessary for progress. We need people to voice their concerns and opinions if we want to advance are thinking and become innovative. People with differing thoughts are not the enemy- their insight may become your best friend. 

by Kristen Keyes

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