Many of us prefer to avoid conflict, especially in the workplace and particularly with those higher than us in the corporate hierarchy. Yet respectful disagreement and constructive friction can be a boon to a workplace, helping to catalyse creativity and stretch employees to think differently. As Margaret Heffernan argues in a TED Talk, the key isn’t avoiding disagreement, but getting good at conflict.
According to studies cited in an article on Fairygodboss, disagreements can be a healthy antidote for cognitive biases that plague all workplaces. The reality is that many people hold onto a core set of beliefs that they believe to be true and objective – exposure to people who disagree can help them to reassess stubbornly held views that may be counterproductive or even wrong.
Without allowing disagreements, companies can fall prey to group-think that not only leads to stagnation, but also to avoidable errors. You can be sure that when a company does something that appears poorly thought-out—a tone-deaf marketing campaign, for example—there was someone there who saw trouble coming. If they’d felt safe to speak out, disaster may have been averted.
Gallup’s research shows having your opinions heard is one of the critical factors for fostering employee engagement and a culture of psychological safety. Of course, if not carefully handled, disagreements can turn into feuds, or resentment can quietly simmer because people are biting their tongues. Here are some tips about nurturing a culture of healthy disagreement.
Set the example from the top
Managers and leaders should set the tone by keeping an open mind when hearing opinions from subordinates and creating an environment where everyone feels safe to voice their thoughts. They should celebrate diversity of thinking. Managers should show that they understand some level of disagreement is natural and healthy—as long as it’s professional and respectful. “Staff should feel that they can share ideas—regardless of what they might be—without fear of ridicule from co-workers or authority figure,” writes a blogger for Robert Half.
Create platforms for everyone to speak
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is creating space for the quieter and less outspoken members of the team to get their views across. An author from thomasnet says that managers will need to be ready to rein in louder voices and elevate the quieter ones, especially when some team members are likely to back down at the first sign of confrontation.
Other techniques suggested by Lucas Fonseca Navarro are breaking teams into smaller cells for meetings to dilute dominant voices and asking people to write down their ideas before presenting them to the group.
Get opinions in advance
According to Gallup, a good way to elevate the quieter voices is to solicit their opinions in private conversations or via email or text. It can be particularly productive to do so before a big meeting, when some team members may feel pressured — consciously or unconsciously — to align their views with the perspectives of others.
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