Intelligent Disobedience: 5 Ways to Invite Disconfirming Feedback

“Serious errors are avoided by the use of Intelligent Disobedience.” Ira Chaleff, author of Intelligent Disobedience: Doing Right When What You’re Told to Do Is Wrong.

Blind obedience is dangerous:

Skilled guide dogs disobey when their owner commands them to step into traffic.

Successful teams learn to differentiate between constructive dissent – intelligent disobedience – and destructive agreement.

When obedience is dangerous:

It’s easy and expected to obey authorities. But sometimes obedience is dangerous. The people in the Twin World Trade Towers were told to return to their desks after the first plane hit on September 11, 2001.

Rick Rescorla defied authorities, grabbed a bullhorn and ordered Morgan Stanley employees out of the South Tower. Nearly 2,700 people made it to safety because of one man’s disobedience.

Make it easy to “disobey”:

Successful leaders make it easy for people to offer alternative suggestions and provide disconfirming feedback.

#1. Present your ideas as works in progress.

Don’t passionately advocate for your ideas and then ask for suggestions or feedback. Present your ideas and ask:

  1. What am I missing?
  2. How might we improve this idea?
  3. Should we do this?

#2. Honor dissent publicly.

  1. Thanks for saying that.
  2. That’s interesting. What made you think of that?
  3. I hadn’t thought of that. Could you tell me more?
  4. Gently explain yourself if you need to reject dissent.

#3. Appoint a devil’s advocate.

#4. Ask each person on the team to offer a dissenting idea.

#5. Teach people how to give constructive dissent.

  1. Align with the basic intent of an idea.
  2. Figure out how to make it happen in a different way. “Another way we could achieve this goal is … .”
  3. Speak with openness. “I could be wrong, but I’m thinking we could … .”

(This post reflects ideas presented in Intelligent Disobedience.)

How might leaders create environments and relationships where intelligent disobedience is part of the mix?

Books I’ve read in March:

Next on my reading list:

*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.