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Mining for Dissent and Debate

On the really tough days, it can sometimes seem like life would be a whole lot easier if everyone would just agree on everything. But the truth is that dissent and disagreement can be key ingredients to an effective work culture, as counterintuitive as that may seem.

There are many reasons teams struggle with disagreement. I was on a team for many years where it wasn’t “safe” to disagree. Over the years, while we kept our thoughts to ourselves, I watched morale deteriorate, minor issues become the focus of conversation, and ultimately, the company began to fail. It was heartbreaking.

If you’re the leader of a team, it’s your responsibility to set the tone. Part of this responsibility requires mining for dissent and disagreement. In order to do this effectively, there are a few things you need to know.

1) You may think people feel free to disagree, but you may be wrong. Leaders can often be the last to know what the reality is on their team. Anonymous surveys, outside consultants and truth tellers in your organization are a few ways you can determine how candid people are willing to be with you.

2) Encourage the behavior you want to see increased. Patrick Lencioni, in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, encourages leaders to stop team members when they are disagreeing and praise them for that behavior. Positive reinforcement can go a long way in changing a team’s dynamics.

3) If you’re the leader, be quiet! As leaders, it can be easy to forget the impact we have when we speak with our teams. Sometimes, when we express our thoughts either in favor of or against a decision, it can make it difficult for team members to speak up and voice an opposing position. Let the rest of your team share their thoughts about an idea before you let yours muddy the waters.

When the Milestone Leadership team sees leaders worth following develop a new skill, they often talk about it as “flexing a muscle.” Trying something different won’t always feel natural the first time you do it. In fact, it’s very unlikely that it will. Creating an environment that encourages dissent and disagreement takes hard work, but the results will be well worth it.


Lori Chalmers 
Former CEO – Milestone Leadership

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