Dissent in the workplace is a delicate thing. Challenging the status quo can be seen as a rebellious and necessary act, but normalising dissent is a lot easier said than done. People get defensive, or begin questioning their own judgement. There is a sense of discomfort in dissenting which has to be navigated sensitively.
That being said, those employers that are creating a space for constructive criticism to take place are the ones unlocking all of their innovative potential.
So, what does this space look like, and how can employers create it?
The first step is by ensuring that the space in which the team are discussing and debating is a psychologically safe one.
Firstly, leaders should clarify openly that they are welcome to opposing opinions. A manager or executive who is leading the discussion will carry natural weight in their words, so they should use this to their advantage; ask for contributions, ask for debate, ask for challenges to the status quo. Establishing the space as one where employees can contribute freely will immediately boost engagement in the topic being discussed.
It is then great to follow this with establishing that ‘there are no wrong answers’. Asking employees to take an interpersonal risk is a vulnerable thing to do; nobody wants to be deemed ‘incorrect’ or ‘silly’. The encouragement of dissent is all about the encouragement of innovation – in the right space, ideas that may have seemed far-fetched can ignite a domino-effect of thought from another employee and so on. Leaders need to actively make the space to be a bit wacky, as they may strike gold in unlikely places!
Once the debate is in full swing, the chairman (in this case, the manager in charge) will naturally notice who is more willing to be honest and open. They should actively engage with these people and ask them directly for their opinions – if others around them see that they can truly dissent without repercussions (within socially acceptable boundaries, of course) then this will likely entice and embolden the rest of the team to get more involved.
This is also a fantastic diversity and inclusion strategy, as it pushes for divergent thinking. For those employees who are more neurodivergent, they will feel much more comfortable and valued sharing their perceptions and ideas in a psychologically safe environment.
Dissent can unlock a wealth of opportunities for employers, it just has to be managed correctly. And it’s no secret that many contemporary companies have been wildly successful by challenging the status quo.
If you want to discuss coaching and training options for encouraging dissent in a productive way in your workplace, please get in touch with us here.