In this day and age, where tolerance for different opinions seems to be unfortunately waning, it’s important to take a step back and think about what it means to treat people well when you disagree with something they say, do or believe. We all have different opinions and different management styles, but it’s important to welcome these differences. I frequently don’t have the “right” answer and very often I don’t believe there is a “right” answer, so eliciting opinions and feedback from people is an essential part of ongoing improvement. While it’s nice to get opinions from people who might think similarly to me (a little validation for the ego), I find it very valuable to get opinions from people who have a different perspective to open my mind to varied solutions that hopefully drive better results.
Science seems to support this view of the benefits of diversity. In an op-ed in The New York Times, Sheen Levine and David Stark wrote about a study they conducted where people in diverse groups were 58 percent more accurate on a series of tests than those in less diverse groups. There are multiple studies reported in Scientific American and other periodicals that support that diversity drives better business outcomes.
To create an environment where diversity can flourish, it’s very important to provide people a safe platform to express opinions that might deviate from the norm. So, how can that be done effectively? I have found three key techniques that, when used well, can help create diversity of opinion in an organization.
1. Don’t attack
Way too often, particularly in the public discourse of the day, we encounter people with differing perspectives attacking each other on a personal level. Rather than debating the merits of different ideas or perspectives, we see an enormous number of personal attacks in social media and elsewhere designed to de-legitimize an opposing view. How often have you read or heard someone say that the other person they disagree with is fat, lying, ugly, etc.? What that has to do with the merit of their ideas is unclear and hopefully will be rejected and not become the American norm.
Inside an organization attacking people typically results in numerous negative consequences:
- Lowering morale for both those attacked and those who witness personal attacks
- Developing more silos as people try to avoid/not work with people who attack
- A “head-down” culture where people are afraid of contributing
- Worse economic results for the organization over time
2. Disagree only with the idea if you have a different opinion
Diversity naturally generates different views, and in an organization like The Search Agency, is essential as we constantly seek better ways to deliver results for our partners. One of our core values is that “there is always a better way,” and for us to discover these ways, we must be open to new ideas; in fact, they must be constantly encouraged.
Doing this will surface differing opinions but hopefully this diversity will drive better end results. If you don’t agree with something, I recommend the following:
- Listen to the idea or opinion and try to make sure you understand what is being said
- Ask questions to clarify and probe to classify how it fits with or diverges from your own perspective
- Ask for supporting facts or documentation to back up the opinion
- If you still don’t agree, solicit feedback from others
- Finally, be openly willing to change your mind and go with the “better way”
3. Don’t get emotional when dealing with conflicting ideas
Finally, I try hard not to let emotions take control when debating with someone on a particular idea. When I do, I regret both how it makes me feel and my personal actions. Below are several techniques I use to help keep emotions in check when encountering an opposing view:
- Step back and listen more carefully–maybe I’m missing something
- Don’t raise my voice–it never helps the situation
- Walk away if needed–no disagreement is worth ruining a friendship or damaging the work environment
- Change topics–move on to other areas where we have common ground
- Agree to disagree–we will never agree on everything all the time, and that’s okay.
I’m not always successful in following all these ideas, but I find when I do, I feel better about myself and usually better things happen.
Learn the importance of practicing active listening in the first installment of this series, “Treating People Well Matters, Part I.”