A while ago we wrote some tips about healthy disagreement. At the end of the article, we mentioned that a lack of disagreement was not necessarily a good sign. If we pursue the idea of the value of disagreement, then watching this fantastic TED talk by Margaret Heffernan is the first step. She makes some important points about disagreement. Her main point is that good conflict is a sign of critical thinking.
She is not talking about the kind of conflict where people rip others to pieces verbally. She is talking about having the courage to challenge ideas by looking at them critically and try to break them down to test their viability.
In a world that is becoming more and more sensitive to perceived injustices and quicker to criticize those that think/live/look/behave differently to themselves, the ability to challenge ideas in a way that does not attack the person behind them is an art that requires some careful thinking. And being able to see the value in disagreement is an important trait to nurture. In the book Lovemarks, Kevin Roberts, states that one of the characteristics of most loved brands in the world, is that they welcome and act on feedback from customers. The books goes on to describe how feedback, especially negative feedback is viewed by these companies as a wonderful way to improve many aspects of their operations. The brands that follow this principle are the ones to which customers are loyal beyond reason, thus making them a lovemark.
The value of disagreement from employees
The same principle should apply to feedback from employees. Healthy feedback should be an indication that employees are:
Paying attention: Taking the time to really think through the work and then picking it apart to test its viability is hard. Seeing the value in an employee that does is this equally hard work. Paying attention to the intention behind the disagreement is the key.
Passionate: Staff members that show up day to day, do their jobs and go home are going through the motions to get a pay check. People who are passionate about the company and its vision will challenge ideas where they feel they need to. Be passionate about their future in return.
Purposeful: Passion and purpose go hand in hand. Apathy and aimlessness are likewise bosom buddies. The purpose behind the passion is the key to unlocking the value in dissent. If the purpose is to improve the company’s value then the dissent is welcome, if the purpose is to further the interests of the individual, then there is no value to the dissent. Being able to recognize the difference and make use of valuable thinking is beyond price.
Imperfect: Companies are feeling the crunch in an increasingly competitive and changing world. The pressure to be perfect is enormous. Perfection is never really attainable, however, excellence is attainable. Employees who can spot the flaws are also those that will take responsibility for their own mistakes. Seeing errors as learning opportunities is a trait to be nurtured as the company is going to grow only as fast as the people within it rise to the challenges, not to the successes.
The challenge for organizations is to test to see if they are just echo chambers with the word from the top being approved without thought. If this is the case, you might want to consider the long term health of your operations. Agreement is not necessarily a sign that you are getting it right, it could be an indication that there is fear, a lack of openness to new ideas and no passion. Imagine seeing the value in disagreement and listening to feedback from team members. Could it, as it does in brands, be a first step in engendering people who are loyal beyond reason? As Margaret Heffernan states: “Openness isn’t the end. It’s the beginning.”