Don't Be Afraid to Disagree at Work — It Can Actually Make You More Engaging

3 min read
May 8, 2017



Who doesn’t like it when the people they’re speaking to agree with every word they say?

In the business world, we like having our ideas and thoughts validated. We like it when our employers recognize our hard work. But at the same time, we want our managers to tell us what we’re doing wrong. In fact, 57% of employees say they prefer getting negative feedback from their bosses instead of hearing them sing their praises.

How else can you become a better worker if no one is telling you what you’re doing wrong? How can you expect to come up with even better ideas when no one challenges you?

When you’re building a business, you may be tempted to try to cultivate a company culture that encourages people to always be agreeable. But what if by embracing constructive conflicts you were able to become an even stronger organization?

In a recent TED Talk, management thinker Margaret Heffernan talked about the virtues of working with people who don’t share your opinion on every issue. In fact, disagreeing with your colleagues may even increase employee engagement.

“Its a fantastic model of collaboration — thinking partners who arent echo chambers,” Heffernan says.

Unfortunately, most organizations — and the people who power them — are afraid of creating conflict.

To Heffernan, a vast number of organizations are simply unable to think. And it’s not because they don’t want to think. It’s because they can’t think.

Why is that?

“In surveys of European and American executives, fully 85% of them acknowledged that they had issues or concerns at work that they were afraid to raise,” Heffernan explains. “Afraid of the conflict that that would provoke. Afraid to get embroiled in arguments that they did not know how to manage and felt that they were bound to lose.”

employee-engagementSOURCE: GIPHY


Heffernan tells the story of Joe, a former colleague who was working on a medical device. Joe thought that the device was much too complex for release. But as he looked around his organization, he noticed that no one else seemed anywhere near as concerned about the device. Initially, Joe was too timid to raise his concerns so he kept his head down and kept working on the device without passion.

Ultimately Joe figured out how to raise his concerns to the rest of the team. As is often the case, once Joe brought up his concerns, a number of his colleagues quickly agreed with him. With allies on his side, the team was then able to start solving the problem and building a better device.

“The fact is that most of the biggest catastrophes that we’ve witnessed rarely come from information that is secret or hidden,” Heffernan concludes. “It comes from information that is freely available and out there — but that we are willfully blind to because we can’t handle, don’t want to handle, the conflict that it proves. But when we dare to break that silence, or when we dare to see, and we create conflict, we enable ourselves and the people around us to do our very best thinking.”

When you’re building your company culture, emphasize the necessity of constructive conflict. When your employees butt heads and work together to come up with an even better solution to a specific problem, your organization, customers, and bottom line benefit.




2017 Employee Engagement Report

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