When You Want Your Team to Disagree
We've all been there: a project manager or supervisor asks you to do something you disagree with for some reason. Perhaps the assignment in question takes up too much time or maybe the proposed strategy doesn’t work with the overall mission. In any scenario where employee and supervisor are in disagreement, the situation is ripe for office drama.
As an employee, this can cause a lot of anxiety. No one likes having to step out of their comfort zone to challenge someone who is in a position of power. When your livelihood depends on your paycheck, sometimes it’s easier to just sit back and go with the flow even when you vehemently disagree with something, for good reasons.
The other side of the desk
For the supervisor, these types of disagreements present a whole different set of obstacles and opportunities. Being a leader means being being confident in your ability to make decisions for your entire team. But this responsibility does not mean that every choice you make is perfect.
In fact, if you are a good leader with hiring authority, you will have assembled a team where each individual was carefully selected based on their own unique skill set. Since each person has something different to bring to the table, it would be foolish for a supervisor to refuse to acknowledge the opinions of their employees.
After all, even if you are at the head of a ship or department, you cannot possibly know everything. It is for that very reason that leaders have staffed their teams with able workers.
How can leaders allow for pushback?
It is absolutely important that employees respect their supervisors. Yet fostering a collaborative environment where everyone has a voice doesn’t have to mean losing respect. As with most things in life, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it.
There is a major difference between constructive criticism and disrespect. If, for example, an employee responds to a disagreement by simply shouting, “you’re wrong,” this obviously does not help create a an environment of respect.
If instead, disagreements and concerns are met with substantial evidence as to why this plan may not work, then any leader would be wise to consider what is being said. An employee may say, “I really appreciate your ideas, but I do have some data that possibly contradicts with the goals of this project.” This is much easier to work with.
As a leader, paying attention to how concerns are worded will help you gauge how to respond. A hostile employee may be carrying baggage from elsewhere into your meeting, meaning you may have to read between the lines of what is being said in order to get to the bottom of their concerns.
But employees who come prepared and armed with helpful data should absolutely be taken seriously and listened to by superiors. In fact, you may be surprised at how much insight they are able to offer.
What pushback makes possible
No one likes being met with resistance, but sometimes it is necessary both for the leader’s professional growth, as well as the employee’s.
Think of it this way: You hired each person for a reason. Allowing them to voice respectful dissent shows that you trust your own hiring decision. If you let your employee voice their concerns, it helps to foster an environment where passive agreement is discouraged.
You are saying, It is okay not to agree with everything. That is a good thing because friction during the collaborative process forces more creative thinking and better end results. A team full of “yes men” accomplishes very little that is also new. A team of “let's think this through” men will bring new ideas to the table.
Take a beat
Disagreements do not have to result in office gossip and they most certainly do not have to result in a sit-down with human resources. More often than not, those things represent a failure to truly communicate.
So when you find yourself in disagreement with someone you work with, especially one of your employees, maybe take a beat. In that time, think of the best way to allow for pushback in the spirit of collaboration. If you can turn this into an opportunity to boost mutual respect, there's no telling how much you can accomplish together.
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