There’s no doubt that allowing a workplace or a team environment that actively encourages dissent is neither common nor easy.
Culture aside, there’s a tendency among managers to stick to the status quo and maintain a strong perception of an inviolable authority figure. The Indian technology and services industry, in particular, is infamous for its deep-rooted subservient culture that hinders innovation.
If you’re on the fence whether dissent is appropriate for your leadership journey, consider these solid business reasons why you should nurture a team that boldly says “I disagree”, “No” and “But” with an elan.
1. Encouraging dissent helps in “Idea Generation”
No! Your idea is not the only earth-shattering idea.
Listening to divergent and opposing views could give leaders better ideas than the ones the leadership team would likely generate by itself. It’s often the mavericks of the organisation who really generate a new idea. Encouraging those Mavericks , those ‘Idea Generators’ when they say “I disagree…and here is what I think…” is key.
As a leader, when was the last time when you said to yourself, “Damn I didn’t think about this”? Or are you too caught up in proving to yourself that you are the most awesome leader and have the best ideas on this planet? Well, I recommend you stop and take a pause and say next time — “Who disagrees with me?”
2. Dissent helps make the ideas wholesome
Pull the elastic to test its strength.
When multiple mavericks are thinking together and have the courage to say no, it brings in the necessary tension which is required in any system to look at an idea from all sorts of perspectives – pros and cons. This in turn helps in coming up with a more holistic solution rather than one with potential gaps. We, as coaches, are tuned in to listening to all sorts of perspectives, opening our Coachees’ minds to perspectives they don’t even know existed in them. In order to cull that out our favourite question is, “What else?”
As a leader, when you were presenting your vision to the team, what sorts of questions you asked to cull out the “demons” they have against the vision you are presenting? Indeed, dissent is the hallmark of an innovation culture.
3. Organisations with a culture of dissent have a more engaged workforce
I say no. I prioritise. I seize the opportunity. I love it.
In addition to active idea generation, a culture of dissent leads to better engagement rates, more productivity and less attrition – all attributes that could potentially lead to solid business growth.
Being able to say no can help teams avoid the stress of overcommitting and under-delivering, have adequate time for what matters most to them and prioritize effectively, preserving energy levels for high-priority tasks. The culture also allows teams to size and seize opportunities they wouldn’t have taken if they were required to always say a yes.
4. Dissent helps you get a pulse of the system
I hate this with passion and I have a forum to voice it.
Glassdoor, the public platform for employees to share feedback on employee culture, came into existence based solely on the reason that most companies did not provide a forum for employees to share their views freely. Many companies now regularly track Glassdoor ratings to evaluate their employer image – it’s telling about how far those companies have yet to go.
But if you’re relying on Glassdoor alone to know what your team is thinking, it’s usually a dangerous sign. Creating an internal dissent forum or culture can give you an early alert system of what your teams are thinking. Leaders often fall into the trap of becoming complacent, which can lead to suboptimal results for your team.
Ask your teams, “What did you hate about the new performance policy?” Or to make the case of dissent even stronger, ask “What do you hate with passion about our new performance management policy?”
5. Dissent helps leaders acquire better leadership skills
We are all work in progress. Oops! I acknowledged it. I am vulnerable now.
Bringing the best out of their teams through dissent requires leaders who are secure on their own skills and art, and have a ‘learner’ mindset as opposed to a ‘judger’ mindset. Walking the talk as a leader and showing that one doesn’t know all is a sign of a very secure and well-balanced leader.
As a leader, serve as a role model to show how to effectively dissent or acknowledge that you don’t know all – it is alright to say no to a client or the management from time to time or to say “I am clueless on this and keen to hear multiple perspectives”
How much is too much ‘No’?
Should you draw a line for how much ‘no’ is appropriate?
Well, when it comes to a dissent-friendly culture, it isn’t a line that’s needed but a conversation. Of course, disruptive rudeness and openness are two different things and the former should be obviously discouraged. Overall, the more dissent, the better it is for the organisation in the long run.
So which of the business reasons above would drive you to encourage dissent in your team today and why ?
Puja Puja, Managing Partner, Head of Coaching & Leadership Practice at Recalibrate Pvt. Ltd.
Puja is a Columbia University certified coach and is acknowledged by business leaders and executives for connecting them and their organisations to their inner compass and helping them find their true purpose and mission.