10 Tactics that Produce Brilliant Solutions
Courageous leaders do more than listen to constructive dissent, they encourage it. Conflict, not comfortable collaboration, produces brilliance.
Encouraging constructive dissent:
- Don’t answer first. Tell people you expect hard truths and practical answer. Don’t settle for yes.
- Share all the information. You discourage feedback when you invalidate what someone says by sharing information they should have known.
- Embrace and honor great feedback. Say, “I hadn’t expected that answer; what are you basing it on.” Push back without pushing away.
- Change your mind. A community leader once told me they never led a meeting they didn’t already knowing the outcome. I started avoiding their meetings. Does it surprise you they didn’t enjoy rich feedback? Once people realize you don’t really care what they say, they stop telling you what they really think.
- Ask tough questions. One of the saddest things I’ve seen leaders do is listen to bull crap. Exposing smoke-blowers motivates people to prepare for meetings and discussions.
- Terminate drifters and butt kissers. They just take up space and drain vitality from real workers. Spend time with honest hard thinkers.
- Publicly honor constructive dissent. When constructive dissent ends up rejected, honor the person. Disagree without being disagreeable.
- Focus on solutions not people. Balance #6 with #7.
- Assign groups to defend positions regardless of their personal point of view. Tell the people to your right they are defending option “A” and the ones on your left are defending option “B”.
- Make decisions. Vigorous discussions without decisions demoralize. Great people want to participate and they want responsible decisions that establish clear direction.
Bonus: Get the creative dissent ball rolling by planting a dissenter who publically dissents.
How do you encourage constructive dissent?
What dangers are associated with encouraging constructive dissent?
Another GREAT blog and list of ideas for us to ponder, Dan.
I want to point out what I have observed as a danger to the notion of constructive dissent. I have sometimes seen leaders expect people to debate matters before they have had sufficient opportunity to think them out. Not everyone responds well to ‘hot conflict’ without having time to reflect. Rather they react to the inherent tension and end up frustrated and anxious.
On this basis, another way to encourage dissent in practice I find, is to notify people in advance what the topic(s) of discussion are going to be. Asking people to come to the meeting prepared to brainsorm ideas and the pros and cons of them seems to work for many.
Great point – I used to be on our church council, and there it was normal for someone to toss a huge topic on the table out of the blue. The resulting discussions can go for hours and get nowhere. We moved to a requirement that anything requiring a vote had to be on the agenda as a motion with grounds. That way everyone could prepare.
Powerful warning Greg. That stuff drives me crazy!
My experience validates your suggestion. I’ve seen leaders flounder when put on the spot but given prep-time they bring their A-game.
Thanks for adding value.
On a loose parallel to this thread, there are those who lob hot topic grenades in the last few minutes of a meeting thinking that stirs debate. Usually just causes folks to scatter and ask ‘what just happened’–that too is not constructive debate.
As far as the other ‘out of the blue’ lobs, depends on the construct of the meeting. If it is presented as ‘bring your brainstorm’ great. Otherwise, I tend to say, ‘that is a very interesting point I had not considered. I will need some time to percolate on it a bit.’
Dan, you get right at the heart of why I hate meetings. Great summary.
I use a tactic I learned from the Army: When we’re zeroing in on a course of action, I ask “OK, tell me the most likely ways this could fail.” Everyone speaks, going from least to most senior, and the rule is we want to hear something that hasn’t been said before.
Bottom line: people are thinking skeptical thoughts. If they don’t say them up front, they’ll say them at the water cooler. You need a culture that rewards people who say those things in the group, at the point where they will do the most good.
I love reading your comments. Once again, you’re insights are practical. I love the structure you suggest for safe way to bring up problems/obstacles.
Thanks for all you do!
I like that too Greg, you have put a marker on the worst possible outcome so that end of the spectrum is covered.
If the meeting focus is brainstorming (and time permits), you can take it farther out on the limb and get absurd with both negative and positive outcomes. Push the spectrum end points.
The benefit of that absurd thinking is that it does get your right brain flowing for more beyond the box thinking and sometimes uncovering potential obstacles that analytically (left brain) we do not think of. Definitely need to add containment at some point after exhausting the storm. That can be done by weighting the obstacles via likelihood of occurring or severity or both.
I love every recommendation on this post. Leaders who don’t embrace these philosophies are encouraging an atmosphere of stagnant disengagement (at best) and could be missing many elephants in the room.
I love a well-turned phrase and “stagnant disengagement” floats my boat. Nice!
Dan, I like your points and because most people will work hard to avoid conflict, Cinnie’s suggestion is excellent, and in alignment with how to prepare participants and encourage them to think out loud.
Bottom line is the leader must facilitate a psychologically safe environment for people to take risks. “All ideas are accepted” and we start with only positive statements or strengths will create such an environment. Brain science research has proven there’s an optimum 5:1 ratio: when we start a conversation with the positive, then our brain will be more open to accepting the “negative” or different opinions.
It’s like merging onto a freeway … start by going with the flow of traffic, then merge lane by lane into the fast lane is a better strategy than getting on the freeway going the wrong direction.
Thanks for your comment.
I’ve debated on the best option of starting with what’s right or starting with what’s wrong. Your insights suggest starting with whats positive about an idea.
Funny how, even with the 5 positives to 1 negative that we lock on to the negative anyway.
This is so on the mark! I know someone that should read this, but I’m afraid I’ll get fired if I send it to them! Any suggestions?
I will share some of these ideas in my “Creative Problem Solving” classes and maybe even in my “Difficult People” classes. Thanks for the good ideas, input!
I was just asking myself the same question, if I dared to forward. I’m thinking maybe if I share it with a larger group of peers and included a couple of bosses, it won’t seem so direct. Wish me luck.
I have lived by these concepts since back in the 80’s when I heard Robert H. Waterman (of American Express) talk about “Loyal Dissent.” I am glad to see it refreshed and clarified. Openness to dissent builds great teams and creates powerful synergy. On the other hand dissenting with a boss (we will not call them a leader) who is not open (#4) helps you find a new position. I always explain what I am doing, but it does tend to intimidate closed minded, insecure bosses.
Create an environment where all can disagree without being disagreeable and there will be exponential creativity and improvement.
I’m not familiar with Waterman’s points so if we are missing any please feel free add here.
Thanks for adding value…
One suggestion…start all meetings with recognitions. It will feel stilted and a bit uncomfortable at first, then folks will jump in. Again the leader models it the first few times, then others will lead that portion of the meeting. That positive regard does set a tone for the rest of the meeting.
Would imagine periodically that a review of the basic tenets/expectations of positive dissent, solutions focused meetings would be productive. This could be done gently with humor even….no vegetables allowed in the meeting–everyone jumps in sooner or later.
Certainly as a part of any such meeting wrapping up, the summary could include process observations about positive and negative dissent that occurred. Whoever is in the meeting owns the process and outcomes of each meeting.
Spot onas usual 🙂
How do you encourage constructive dissent? I think in the past I have leaned toward so much “openness” that the dissent digressed beyond constructive — it was challenging to pull everyone back in to a cohesive unit that felt that it had a defined direction.
What dangers are associated with encouraging constructive dissent? I suppose i named one above. I think the potential benefits outweight the dangers when encouraging constructive dissent, but I would keep an eye out for the fact that healthy dissent can morph into sarcasm and ridicule sometimes; it’s important to be respectful (as you said above) to all points of view and ideas that need to be vetted.
Great post as usual. Jack Welch refered to the lack of candor as the “Dirtiest Little Secret in Business.” Putting forth ideas that prompt real debate and constructive dissent, as your Post indicates, is the key to real, substantive decision making. But it takes work and focus. It is not easy to do but it is the right thing to do. Without it, the wrong decisions will be made, no decisions will be made and/or morale will suffer. We just recently took a class by Mitch Shepard of Dynamic Interactions (http://www.dynamicinteractions.com/homeour second with her) on Promoting a Culture of Feedback (previous course we took was on Emotional Intelligence). Would recommend that or other like courses to help groups get to the point where they can be candid with each other, transparent and have constructive debate. Everyone has great comments to this Post. That is one of the best things about this forum. We can all learn from one another. Thanks Dan!
Thanks for the good word Mike and for adding so much value to the conversation. I’m glad you like this post because it’s our conversations that got me thinking about this topic. Best, Dan
Might add ‘valuing, promoting, creating and nurturing a culture of feedback. It is never done, has to be continuously crafted and tended to.
Mike, you have the answer right here…promoting and creating a culture of feedback…
I think that the KEY in constructive dissent is the culture that has been set by the leader. If the culture of the organization is poor there can be no constructive dissent. Egos and strong personalities take over and damage any possibility for constructive debate where real solutions can be discussed and discovered.
Some leaders don’t encourage dissent because they fear they will be expected to implement suggestions. As long people feel they have been heard and are clear from the outset on the decision making process and authority, this isn’t a problem.
I love a well-turned phrase too Dan and your post, as usual, is full of them. Great value from everyone’s comments as well
Einstein said that to think out of the box is rebellion and we must understand what’s in the box before we rebel against it.
Creativity often requires an element of Anarchism – Dan your suggestions show how to prevent that from becoming anarchy. I can see some of the traps I often fall into.
My only dissapointment is that no-one has disented with the article ;^)
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Just a great post, and list Dan. Very insightful. Hard not to love #6 – “Terminate drifters and butt kissers”. Very true!
Thanks Mike. Great seeing you become a regular.
Thanks Dan! I am really enjoyed your content! Keep up the great work (psssst, it is Tim 🙂 )
Doh! Sorry Tim
Hey Dan… Not a problem! With the amount of people that you respond too, I am sure that happens from time to time! Enjoy the rest of your Sunday!
Could we summarize with come alongside and draw in people with a common purpose?
Great insights as always.