3 min read

Mining for dissent

It feels good to be in a room of yes-people, but it’s a trap. Be brave and seek out if and why people disagree with you. It'll make you a more effective leader.
Mining for dissent
Disagreement can be a good thing if you're willing to embrace it.

As a leader it’s tempting to think your ideas and decisions are fantastic. Most likely, your track record of previous ideas and decisions got you to where you are. Moreover, it’s human nature to avoid the person who tends to disagree with you. After all, you’re the leader. You’re the one who’s accountable. 

When I was a new leader, I disliked it when individuals would disrupt the harmony of meetings by disagreeing with my ideas, decisions, or game plans. My instincts were to avoid including them or ignoring their opinion. Oh how I wish I could reach back in time and shake some sense into that version of me! My instincts were awfully incorrect. Dissenting opinions are a veritable gold mine of alternative paths, variables, and, importantly, clarity. Mining for dissent, rather than seeking a lazy harmony, always makes decisions even better

Make it safe

Naturally, you have to make it safe for disagreement. You have to put your guard down and let your ego go. It’s hard at first. But if you want folks to critically think through and challenge ideas, you need to make it easy. Be welcoming of different opinions; what's more, when folks do speak up and dissent, celebrate it. It'll become a virtuous cycle as people will see it's safe and try it for themselves.

When someone disagrees with you, it’s important to take the position that they are disagreeing with your idea, not you. Disagreement isn’t a personal attack of your intelligence, but simply a different point of view. Your job as a leader is to understand why there’s a disagreement. Understanding how someone arrived at a different position is vital. This process takes practice and a lot of patience. Nevertheless, in these disagreeing situations, encourage dissenters to elaborate their reasons. Make sure you understand their reasons. Did this person uncover a blind spot in your analysis? Did you overlook something? Don't dismiss this dissent no matter how tempting it is!

Avoid the laziness trap

Mining for dissent is an effective means to avoid groupthink. Sometimes people get lazy – it’s been a long day and they aren’t in the mood to think critically or engage in some sort of disagreement. This definitely happens to me! Zoom fatigue is real. Don’t take the easy path though! You have to encourage debate and disagreement. You have to pull it out of people sometimes. Mining for dissent is as easy as asking "what am I missing?"

It no doubt feels good to be in a room of yes-people, but it’s a trap! Those harmoniously pleasant interactions without any deep thoughtful debate are weak. Chances are there's a hole somewhere. Be brave and seek if people disagree with you and then find out why. If you have a high powered team that has a foundation of trust, you can put away your ego!

Great leaders embrace dissent

Allow folks to poke holes in your ideas and through that process, you’ll end up with a better idea. I guarantee it. An idea which has gone through dissent mining will be one that’s been vetted and critically analyzed. And in the process, you’ve built buy-in and ownership from your team. By actively mining for dissent, your initially weak idea, decision, or position becomes your team’s well throughout strategy or plan. Moreover, when surprises inevitably pop up, you’ll all be in the trenches together solving whatever problems arose. By actively engaging a debate, you've built commitment.

It took me some hard lessons to realize that when people disagreed with me, they cared. If someone disagrees with your idea, it means they took the time to think about your idea! Embrace dissent. Mine for it. It'll result in better decisions, buy-in from your team, and make you a better leader.