The Courage To Allow Dissension In The Meeting Room – by Violet Dhu

Do you as a leader, manager or supervisor allow and encourage your staff to disagree with you? Do you promote a culture of dissension within your workplace? Employees need to feel safe to disagree and dissent with something they don’t agree with. Recent studies have found that dissent plays an important role in helping organisations to thrive, innovate and grow. More specifically, employees become more satisfied and leaders are able to make better decisions in work environments where dissension is encouraged.

Many people don’t feel safe disagreeing and they feel that if they speak up with an opposing view they will be ridiculed or mocked. The reality is no one wants to hear dissent or disagreement. But it is also important that employees can freely express their ideas and opinions, even if the idea disagrees with the leader or the entire team.

When dissension is encouraged in the workplace, it helps promote psychological safety to all team members. Amy Edmondson from Harvard Business School defines psychological safety as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for sharing ideas, questions or concerns”.   In other words, employees feel safe to disagree, dissent or put forward opposing ideas to their managers without the fear of being neglected or received negatively.

Creating a Culture where it is Safe to Dissent

Harvard Business Review describes 4 ways that a manager can help create a culture where it is safe to dissent. In the mining sector, health and safety is the number one priority. So workers need to speak up when they disagree or hear or see something that they think is not safe. Leaders need to encourage and enable people to disagree with them, especially when safety and people’s lives are at stake.

The 4 strategies that a manager can use to encourage dissension are

1. Allow for anonymous feedback. Have a feedback channel where some can disagree or speak up anonymously. This strategy is also great for introverts who do not like to speak up in groups

2. Have a larger team in your meetings. The reverse of this is a manager who surrounds themselves with a small team of carefully selected yes men and yes women. Nothing is likely to get challenged. A larger more representative team is more likely to have differing ideas and more likely to dissent.

3. Add diversity to the mix. Include gender, age, and different levels of experience and different backgrounds in your team. The diversity of a team allows for more ideas, wider thinking and more dissension.

4. Model dissension yourself. As a manager you can model doubt and dissension yourself. You can encourage people to also express concerns and doubt. It takes courage to model dissension, because as a manager you feel you need to be decisive and clear in your decisions. But dissension can still be modelled in the early stages of the decision process.

Dissension doesn’t always mean disagreement or opposition. It can be an alternative option that is often better, easier and more cost effective. You as the team leader should encourage ideas and suggestions from the entire team. Before making the final decision, spend time to think about and consider each of your team’s ideas. As leader it takes courage to allow and foster a culture of dissension, but the benefits to the organisation are significant.

Do you agree or do you dissent?

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