Disagreement is a precious resource in learning, judgment and decision-making. Often people avoid openly expressing disagreement in a fear of offending others or as the result of the peer or team pressure. That neglect of disagreement results in the failure to benefit from the constructive forces of disagreement, including:
1. Improved communication:
- Clarification and greater understanding of ideas
- Increased retention of relevant information
- Increased use of critical thinking skills
2. More productive teamwork:
- Stimulation of interest and involvement
- Stronger working relationships and cooperation
- Increased interest and motivation for problem solving
- Increased understanding of self and others
- Increased group interaction, trust and cohesiveness
- Enhanced awareness of problems in group functioning
- Changes can be made before the group is impaired
- Decreased tension, frustration
- Higher levels of morale and satisfaction
- Decreased likelihood of acting out negative feelings indirectly
3. Better Quality decisions and problem solutions:
- More creative ideas
- More decision alternatives
- More time spent thinking through decisions
Conflict is often the first step for getting rid of outdated procedures, revising regulations, changing organisational culture, fostering innovation and creativity. Addressing rather than suppressing conflict opens the lines of communication, gets people talking to each other (instead of about each other) and makes people feel like they’re part of a team that cares. As a result, people learn how to work harmoniously, come up with creative solutions and reach outcomes that benefit everyone involved.
However many of us are programmed to avoid conflict or do not know how to handle disagreement in a constructive way. So we have quiet, reserved, polite workplaces, but there is a whole bunch of “stuff” simmering below the surface. We cannot be honest and disagree with each other. We sit around the conference table and nod our heads up and down, and then after the meeting we tell the truth to a smaller group of peers with whom we actually feel comfortable being honest.
Below are some ideas to help your team learn to voice dissenting opinions and resolve disagreements in a constructive way:
- Raise awareness: Let members know that disagreement can be healthy and that the team encourages constructive tension. This will help set the stage and encourage more “voices” to come forward.
- Value listening: Draft listening as a core value of the team. Ultimately, we cannot learn from dissension if our hearts and minds are not really open to the conversation.
- Respect always rules: Constructive dissension boils down to team members offering respect to their colleagues. When this principle is ignored, any level of disagreement can quickly become unhealthy. If you have any sense of being on shaky ground after engaging in an intellectual battle with someone, patch that rift with kind words, support and willingness to listen. You may have to retreat for a while until things cool down, but you must let the other person know that you still respect and admire them.
- Encourage dissenting opinions: Teach team members how to disagree diplomatically. Many individuals may want to disagree, yet are not sure how to avoid “causing trouble”. Offer ways to speak up by suggesting healthy “templates” or a “scripts” to do so.
- Pose alternatives: If they find fault with an idea or strategy — be sure that team members attempt to offer an improved version or alternative solution. Constructive criticism is always preferred.
- Deal with dyad issues: If two members seem to be experiencing personal conflict, ensure this does not play out during team meetings. Encourage a dialogue to resolve core issues outside of the team and contain “toxic spills” rooted in personal issues.
- Focus on solutions, not the “win”: Ultimately, one single idea does not have to “win” — and this can help take the pressure out of collaboration. Masters of innovation such as Pixar, combine the ideas of many contributors to formulate solutions. In this way being honest and open, won’t take sway from another team member’s work.
The same rules apply to handling disagreement within the family: never stop caring and listening no matter how angry you are.
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- Saving Your Team with Constructive Dissension
- Learn to disagree and argue constructively
- Benefits of open disagreement