The Hidden Advantage of Disagreements
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The Hidden Advantage of Disagreements
by: Thejendra BS
A popular comic strip once showed a soldier diligently watering a lawn in the
rain. When a puzzled passer-by questions the need for a hose during a rain the
solder answers he was simply following orders that the lawn must to be watered
everyday. And then mischievously adds that soldiers are forbidden from
disagreeing or questioning the orders made by their superiors. Conventional
wisdom usually shows that going quietly with the established flow is the path to
success and happiness. For example, if you are the boss and you have team
members who don't support you in everything, you may argue that it can undermine
morale, reduce your authority, weaken the team, project or even sabotage the
company goals. So a good team player is one who does not rock the boat, delay
decisions or introduce roadblocks. And obviously having people who agree with
you on anything and everything has many perceived advantages like below.
- Working with cooperative people is a joy and necessary to achieve a
goal. After all who would like to work with people who disagree?
- Things get done faster when you have people who agree with you on
anything and everything.
- With people who collaborate easily there will be less conflicts, stress
And so on. The above reasons appear valid because people see disagreements in
the workplace lead to anger, confusion, fear, embarrassment, etc., and so it
must be avoided at all costs. However, putting the popular reasons aside for
sometime there are several hidden reasons why surrounding yourself with yes-men,
apple-polishers and people who blindly agree without questioning for various
reasons (including fear) can actually be a poison pill for you. While preventing
disagreements may have its valid reasons in the armed forces, the same formula
in the civilian and corporate world can often become a disaster as you will soon
see. To be truly successful you must periodically welcome a generous dose of
disagreement in every major or important decision you take, even if you are an
expert in what you do. The suggestion for openly inviting disagreement may seem
odd because it can be infuriating, insulting, irritating and seen as a roadblock
to your plans. But beneath the hood there are several advantages of accepting
people who can question your plans, decisions, demands, ideas, etc., provided
you learn the ability to see it in an objective way. Many times the advantages
of seeking advice from people who have the courage to disagree can often far
outweigh the advantages of surrounding yourself with only who agree. The reasons
why you need some disagreement are as follows.
- Lack of dissent and disagreement means lack of analysis. Everything has
a downside when viewed from certain angles. This has been aptly demonstrated
by Alfred Sloan (CEO of General Motors from 1923 to 1956) who once said in a
directors' meeting, ‘Gentlemen, I take it that we are all in complete
agreement on the decision here. Then, I propose that we postpone further
discussion to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain
some understanding of what the decision is all about.’ If Alfred Sloan
couldn't find opposition to an important decision, he would postpone it to
give his business managers some time to think about the pros and cons in
- A disagreement can often prevent you from rushing into bad decisions and
choices. They give you time and press the brakes to ponder over it though
you may get irritated by the delay and roadblocks. It is quite possible you
may have done extensive homework on a decision, but still may have
overlooked a simple, but important point, which the dissenting person can
see when looked from a different angle.
- Use disagreements to you advantage. Cynics, pessimists and people who
can disagree are right nine times out of ten. So learn how to extract gold
from it. When you are doing a project or a major task you need people who
can blurt out problems and roadblocks openly, not someone who will gleefully
say everything can be done and pat your back. Every time a cynic opens his
mouth you know what exactly needs to be fixed so that a project can succeed.
Ask yourself, ‘How can I use this information?’ or ‘How much time, money and
effort is involved to solve all these problems?’
- You need to accept opposition objectively and professionally. You should
encourage people to disagree with you so that all sides of the decision can
be carefully examined. Unless you are a megalomaniac or an extremely
dismissive person, you must accept the fact that countless people below or
above you will be more talented, smarter, knowledgeable and more powerful
than you. It is not enough to invite dissent and criticism because it is the
new management fad or just for the heck of it, and later victimize or target
the person for saying something you didn't like to hear.
- Don't be afraid to disagree or accept disagreement. Real leaders accept
disagreement. Surrounding yourself with yes men simply means they are just
rubber stamping everything you say without adding any value or digging deep
into the issue. A certain amount of honest friction heightens interest and
establishes mutual respect. However, when dealing with subordinates you have
to invite dissent by asking beautiful questions. People beneath you will
never openly dissent if you have blown your fuse or acted irrational
earlier. Many employees, especially newcomers, will not speak up in an
atmosphere where they feel their ideas are not welcome.
- If you are famous or popular chances are everyone around will always
agree with you and applaud all your decisions. If you notice such a thing
then you need to be extra careful of those who are too supportive of your
ideas and suggestions. This is because they will also not prevent you from
making mega mistakes. So whether it is your decision of buying an unsuitable
equipment for your organization, or even going to the extent of cooking the
books to commit some fraud they will not oppose or openly dissent. Later on,
when something goes wrong badly the yes men around will quickly disappear
and not share the blame by promptly claiming that it was all your decision.
Of course, if they had disagreed earlier but you did not care or bulldozed
their opinions then only you are to be solely blamed.
- Another the key to managing disagreements is to prevent it from taking a
personal turn as 99% of disagreements turn into conflicts and become dirty.
The simple reason for this is the way a disagreement is put forth. Many a
time a particular suggestion or idea may invoke a swift and brutal objection
due to various reasons, bad past experiences or the way it is proposed.
Disagreement has to be strongly focused on the issue or idea, and not on the
person or the way the person blurted out the opinion, or body language, bad
choice of words, etc. Though etiquette counts, the emotional aspect must be
carefully and consciously filtered out so that you can to refocus on the
issue or in extreme cases abandon the idea completely.
- One must also understand that disagreement and dissent should not be
done just for the sake of it like opposition politicians who have a standard
policy to oppose everything that the ruling party does. Arguing just for the
sake of arguing is also not productive disagreement.
And we can conclude this chapter with two great quotes on agreeing.
‘The fellow that agrees with everything you say is either a fool or he is
getting ready to skin you.� Kin Hubbard
‘The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who
disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.’ Napoleon Bonaparte.
Thejendra BS is an IT manager and author from Bangalore, India. He scribbles
mild and wild articles on technology, business management, self improvement and
wacky humor that get published on many reputed websites and syndicated through
various RSS feeds around our planet. He has also published diverse books like
Disaster Recovery & Business Continuity, Practical IT Service Management,
Corporate Wardrobe-Business Humor Series and Life-365-A Year's Supply of Wisdom,
Tips & Advice. Visit his web cave www.thejendra.com for his free articles and
details of his books.
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Classification: Communication, Conflict