Dissent can be Good

When everyone on the board or committee agrees on a course of action it’s often assumed to be the correct one; after all, everyone aggrees with it.  But is it the best?

Sometimes universal agreement isn’t best.  Without debate, alternative views aren’t heard, alternative courses of action aren’t considered.  An alternative may mean compromises have to be made (on both sides) but, in many cases (especially politics) there’s rarely a course that doesn’t work better with compromise.  Even in, say, engineering there is often a need to compromise: trading off strength for weight is a common consideration.

Everyone agreeing should be a sign that further examination may be needed.  A useful exercise is for someone to present the opposing argument, playing Devil’s Advocate.  It forces them to examine the situation more deeply, setting aside the assumptions they (and everyone else) may have instinctively made.  In doing so, you sometimes discover that your own, previously firm, view may not be as sound as you originally thought.  When leading a team, get one of the supporters of a plan to prepare an argument against it; not as an afterthought but as a challenge to them.  Get them to present it (formally, if necessary) to see if some of the new points get traction – and, if they do, make sure it’s seen as a positive contribution (rather than an annoyance and interruption to a smooth decision making process).  Even if the plan eventually goes ahead unchanged, your confidence in it is more justified.

(Posted as a blog 1st August 2019)

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