Effective Dissent

As I’ve counseled many times, productivity and success depend heavily on your ability to work well with other people.

This can become much more difficult when you think or feel differently from those others. You may have faith in an unusual take on a problem or solution – or lack faith in what others readily accept, you may possess relevant facts or information others don’t, or you may simply have a hunch or intuition that’s leading you away from the mainstream course of analysis and action others prefer.

Dissent is no guarantee of wisdom or even accuracy. But in many situations, you may feel sufficiently confident your information or concept is on-target enough that you ought to share it with others – even if they don’t want to hear you out.

The ways you handle this dissent from the consensus can greatly influence others’ reactions to your ideas as well as your ability to persuade them to support your approach.

Here are some suggestions on how to dissent more effectively from others you’re working with:

Drop the Ego and Self-Interest

Dissent that’s driven by your own agenda tends to be far less attractive and persuasive than dissent driven by a sincere desire to improve the results of the current task, project, or goal.

Even if you might personally benefit from the course of action or situational analysis you’re offering, it’s best to present your ideas in terms of the overall “best interests” of all the stakeholders, not just your own.

Of course, it’s generally counter-productive to cover up the benefits that will accrue to you or your team if your point of view prevails. They will nearly always come out, and your cover-up will count against you. But you’ll get little mileage from leading with those benefits, or falling back on them when your other debating points fall flat.

Rely on Reason

The most persuasive arguments in favor of your ideas tend to be those that:

  • Flow naturally from the actual facts of the situation,
  • Are commensurate with sound practices, principles, and values others already accept,
  • Are aligned at the highest levels with “the right thing to do” and “what’s best for everyone.”

The weakest arguments are more likely to reflect:

  • An immediate or short-term opportunity for anyone’s or any small sub-group’s personal gain or advantage,
  • A feeling or preference unsupported by evidence,
  • A fringe belief or value that few other people accept.

Maintain Civility

When you dissent from the mainstream, you’re likely to encounter objections, disagreements, discounting of your facts and arguments, and other efforts to undercut your propositions.

Accepting all that with civility – even when others attack you – actually helps your cause prevail much more often than giving into anger, insult, or personal attacks on your opponents.

Remember, it’s just business, not personal. You’ll get your way more often when you stay on the high road to focus on the topics at hand and how to improve results within the current task, project, or goal.

Of course, others may not have absorbed this advice and may take the low road: nit-picking, insulting, and demeaning both your proposals and you. Should this happen, try to keep a tight leash on your reactions.

For example, insist on holding any person-to-person arguments in private, rather than in open meetings or otherwise readily-accessed settings. Respond to others’ negativity – whether directed at your ideas or you – with your calmest possible demeanor, utmost patience, and loads more civility than you may feel.

The goal of all this – in both your work or your life – should be to spread far and wide your opinions, interpretations of the facts, and planning preferences with a single-minded aim to drive the current task, project, or goal toward the best possible result.

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