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Courage of Dissent — The Lost Art of Constructive Dissent in Workplaces: Encourage Honest Open Disagreement…

Dissent plays an important role in any organization, it’s an expression of disagreement or contradictory opinions about all sorts of issues, e.g.; practices, policies, people, decisions… However, dissent can also lead to conflict, and as a result many organizations send a clear message that dissent is discouraged… According to John T. Garner; there’s only one problem with dissent; many people don’t want to hear it, and others worry that expressing dissent will cause them to be seen as negative, or that it simply won’t make a difference…

However, recent studies show that dissent serves as an important monitoring force in organizations… According to Jacob Bronowski; organizations never die from dissent, but many die from  conformity… Every organization should have their own dedicated ‘dissenter-ist’; a person(s) who boldly criticize things, which others don’t feel empowered to speak-up about. According to Amy Edmondson; the mantras, ‘don’t rock the boat’ or ‘you get along by going along’… seem very outdated in the sophistication of modern workplaces, yet they are still considered sound advice… Authentic dissenters, people who truly believe in their dissenting opinions are crucial to promote different ways of thinking…

In the article Constructive Dissent by Dennis F. Strigl writes: An open-workplace environment is one in which all employees can speak their minds without fear of reprisal. An open environment is crucial for building trust in organizations… Employees must not only feel free to express their ‘real’ thoughts but also encouraged to do so– all voices must be heard and leaders must consider all opinions especially from dissenters… One approach in creating an open-work environment is the concept of the ‘obligation of constructive dissent’, which means that all employees not only have right to disagree but obligated to do so…

In other words, when someone in the organization has a different opinion that person is required to say so… When leaders encourage ‘constructive dissent’, employees understand that their opinions are valued. They know the leader wants to hear their ideas. They know the leader wants to do the right things for right reasons. When employees have ‘obligation to constructively dissent’, the organization is more effective and better able to work as a team… It benefits the entire organization– customers, employees, shareholders…

In the article Importance of Dissent by Brit Meredith writes: Today’s workforce is about teamwork, group work, collaboration… With such strong emphasis on working in groups and being a team player, it can be difficult to voice dissent or disagreements with the direction a project is taking– no one wants to rock the boat, be perceived as out of step with the group, be labeled ‘difficult,’ or become disliked… However, voicing dissent can be crucial to group’s overall success… It can keep the project on course and yield creative and unique results. After all, the purpose of any group is to come up with the best solution– not just an adequate or mediocre solution…

Anyone who has ever worked as member of a group or team (which is pretty much everyone in today’s workforce) knows how easy it can be to keep quiet and not voice concerns or disagreements with direction that a project is taking… Keeping quiet is easy and it’s safe– you don’t risk drawing anyone’s ire, and you don’t lengthen an already interminably long meeting, and you don’t make yourself easy target… Many people think of dissent and disagreement as being antithetical to the group, and mistakenly believe that disagreement is same as discord or negative relationships among group members; but that’s not the case…

Group work is about each member bringing their own unique approach to a situation or project– each member brings something different to the table and, by necessity, that means there will be differences. These differences and disagreements in approach are vital to crafting a truly creative solution– it’s essential not to confuse dissent and disagreement with discord and failure… Ultimately, dissent and disagreement are integral to the success of group work…

Clearly, voicing dissent and disagreement is important– it’s an essential part of any group work, but how it’s done is equally important. As a member of a group, you must be conscious of how your actions and behaviors affect your coworkers… So when you voice dissent– which you should– be sure that you do it in a way that is respectful of the efforts of the group, but also highlights potential problems at hand… Voicing dissent (appropriately) is about creating a group dynamic that allows for uninhibited exchange of ideas and opinions– the results of which can enhance and achieve a more successful outcome…

Organizations needs not less, but more opposition and dissent… According to Dan Sanchez; dissent is a virtue, and ‘No’ is a beautiful and profoundly important word; ‘No’ as in ‘No’ means ‘No’… Dissent is righteous resistance, it’s not a disorder or even a vice, but a virtue and necessary for achievement... According to Nasrin Shahinpoor; when organizations oppose dissent, they create a difficult and toxic work environment… Hence, leaders must distinguish between principled dissent from other forms of critical opposition… but they must also perceive a dissenter as an important organizational voice and valued employee… 

The dissenter, like the whistle-blower, is often highly motivated and desires to contribute to an organization’s well-being. Recognizing and protecting dissent is critical for success of an organization, and valuable part of leadership. When dissent is managed well, it permits different voices to be heard and evaluated in interest of doing what is right for the organization…

When dissent is mismanaged, it’s a lever for enemies to destroy each other and in process to harm the team and organization… Strong and open two-way communication can facilitate dissent, and by channeling it in a constructive direction it can be the difference between success and failure… Dissent is good but it also debilitating– non-constructive dissent can destroy an organization, especially when it’s not managed properly…