Employees who disagree – should be embraced and encouraged not punished!

By Adrian Harvey

Am I mad?  Who in their right mind would want to encourage employees to disagree, surely harmony is better for the business and disagreement should be discouraged? Maybe, depends what sort of a business you are running and whether you want to be the best in your field or not. Perhaps it also depends on your management style and whether you are a dictator or not! Funnily enough, refusing to accept another who has a valid counter position is a deep and destructive character flaw. 

Why so? Well, if you have a workforce that is happy to disagree and does so constructively you are onto a winner. You have a workforce that is confident to speak out, confident of their beliefs and happy to discuss and debate it with others who may have a completely opposing view. Provided the disagreement doesn’t descend into chaos e.g. name calling and childish behaviour, it is likely that the business will get a better quality faster outcome as a result of the disagreement process. Disagreement is healthy and should be encouraged and even nowadays trained in the workplace. 

It is rare that any one single person will have all the right ideas and also whilst the collaborative development of ideas should also be encouraged, the act of disagreement and debate is a far quicker and more personal process for refining ideas. Disagreement isn’t automatically a bad thing and should not be treated as such.  

Disagreements that force participants to robustly challenge and defend their own perspective of a situation and perhaps learn from others stated positions is a healthy and marvelous thing. Through disagreement we can build on each other’s knowledge and understanding and develop better solutions. The process of disagreement is also helpful to learning and you will find that you will better learn and retain outcomes agreed through disagreement than through collaboration.

Don’t get me wrong there is a time and place for this disagreement and a time and place for the chain of command to overrule dissent and disagreement. If the boat is sinking and the boss shouts “bail” the last thing you want to hear is Lily Allen arguing about whether she thinks it’s a good idea or not!    

Interestingly, for many people the word ‘criticism’ conjures up negative connotations. Disagreement is a fundamental part of life and, if anything, employers should be helping employees to disagree in constructive and sensible ways and encouraging them be better at it. Disagreements that lead to fights in the car park are not only inappropriate but completely counterproductive and clearly not what I am referring to.

Ask yourself the question, would you rather work in an environment where you could safely speak your mind and disagree with aspects of how the business was run, even though others may have a different view and knowing they will voice it? Or would you rather work in a business where you did as you were told, accepted what your boss said, even if you knew it was wrong or there was a better way?

We are all different which makes disagreement a reality of life.  Done constructively and in an adult way disagreement will make you more confident and more fulfilled. Done in a destructive and close minded way is called protesting and will serve only to build barriers and entrench positions that stifle creativity and progress. Lily Allen if you are reading this – read it twice.