Becoming a Workplace of Courteous Dissent
Great minds think alike? Or fools seldom differ? American political activist and founding father Thomas Paine once said: “I do not believe that any two men, on what are called doctrinal points, think alike who think at all. It is only those who have not thought that appear to agree.”
In other words, going along with the status quo for the sake of peace and harmony results in intellectual complacency, which is not to be confused with intelligence. You might say it’s the divergence among our minds that makes humanity the most successful species, and that without contrast, we would morph into a bleak dystopian society.
It’s 100 percent okay to hold unique perspectives within a single workplace. It’s even okay to express those dissimilar views. In order to establish a work culture that fosters courteous dissent, be aware that a team will always be made up of members with varying points of view, whether or not they speak up to make those views known. For those who tend to avoid conflict, the pressure of expressing doubts and differences can feel overwhelming. However, a healthy work environment must lay down the groundwork for courteous dissent to flourish. Here are some things to keep in mind along the journey.
- Leaders Must Not Feel Threatened by Dissent: Great ideas come from up and down the hierarchy. Leaders must be confident enough in their abilities that they don’t see their team members doubts and challenges as a threat. In an organization, all employees should feel supported when voicing their contrasting ideas and shouldn’t fear repercussions when respectfully bringing them up. A good leader should create more leaders, not more followers. Trust that you or your company hired the very best and give everyone a chance to shine.
- Practice Active Listening: Active listening does not mean you are quietly thinking up your next speaking point while someone else is talking. Active listening involves undivided attention, eye contact, asking helpful questions, repeating key points and knowing you owe it to yourself to take away something valuable from everyone speaking—whether or not you like what they’re saying.
- Create a Safe Place for Open Dialogue: Teams should be aware that their opinions and ideas are welcomed, and leaders should verbally recognize when a session of courteous dissent is taking place. In the correct context, these discussions can breed great new ideas and become opportunities for teams to bond. When in the right spirit, respectful dissent should never be punished.
- It’s Not Personal: Someone disagreeing with you doesn’t mean they don’t like you. It doesn’t mean you are less intelligent. As a society, we need to stop (for lack of a better word) getting “butthurt.” Ideas should always be seen as “the more, the merrier.” Defending your “my way or the highway” is not the point. At the end of the day, it’s about what is best for your business, your customers and your employees. Never be afraid to admit that someone else’s idea is better than yours.
- Your Values Should Support Dissent: At Pipefy, our values reflect the importance we place on open dialogue. One of our values, Radical Candor, means we emphasize the importance of being open to give and receive genuine, fast and objective feedback on anything and everything. We challenge people and show we care at the same time. Another one of our values, Humble to Improve Fast, means that our employees understand that everyone is continuously developing skills and behaviors as professionals and human beings. We listen to the constructive criticism of others and work on personal and professional development, regardless of our rank in the company. By showcasing these kinds of characteristics in your mission statement or company values, your staff will feel comfortable taking action.
- Diverse Perspectives Yield Better Ideas: Without diverse minds, there would be no innovation. How boring would it be if everyone silently nodded in agreement during team meetings? Would you be getting the best and brightest ideas if a high-five culture was more important than a culture that made every voice count? Companies should create an atmosphere of sharing, where all employees are encouraged to come forward with any ideas they may have, and where teams help those ideas become a reality.
- Keep it Classy: Being courteous isn’t just a courtesy; it’s a necessity. It all boils down to respect. Be respectful of all voices and point of views, regardless of whether you agree or how junior or senior the person speaking out is. If things get too heated, table the matter for a later date and take a team lunch or happy hour to lift team morale.
The commitment to doing great work should always come first. The more ideas companies pay attention to, the more likely employees will feel valued and motivated to produce their very best work.