There is a general misconception in the business world that in order to be successful, entrepreneurs must be influential leaders whose employees immediately fall in line with their every command. Consider the number of famous entrepreneurs who have earned a reputation for themselves as successful leaders despite being “abrasive” and “difficult.” It’s not hard to imagine why these leaders would prefer, and more often than not, require obedient and loyal employees.
However, research indicates businesses tend to perform better when their leadership recruits employees and partners who aren’t afraid to disagree with them.
Conflict and Progress
Every human is susceptible to cognitive biases. Our personal biases are often the byproducts of our genetics, personal beliefs, and history. Think of these biases as blind spots. When an employee disagrees with leadership they have different blind spots than their leaders do. In this manner, when an employee disagrees with their boss, they compensate for one another’s blind spots to gain a wider perspective on their idea.
Critical thinking is essential to the success of any business. However, critical thinking can lead to conflict, but conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Constructive conflict naturally encourages progress. Disagreements and differences within the workplace force leaders to confront any weaknesses in their ideas.
For example, if you create a plan on how to brand your startup, an employee may suggest concerns about the proposed budget, or point out a problem with reaching your target audience. At worst, open objections force entrepreneurs to spend additional time on research to reinforce their idea(s). On the other hand, when employees openly discuss their concerns, it can alert leaders to a flaw in their plan, which prevents wasting money, time, and/or energy.
Beyond Stubborness to Reach Compromise
Stereotypical entrepreneurs are notoriously headstrong, and rightly so. The best entrepreneurs have a distinct vision for what they want their product or company to be. More often than not, they aren’t willing to sacrifice or compromise on their specific vision. Unfortunately, in order for innovation to flourish within an organization, there must be room for compromise.
Cultivating an environment where employees feel empowered to share their opinions, even when it’s in direct disagreement with your plan/vision, leads to innovation. While you may not agree with every opinion, keeping your mind open to new ideas may help you improve your ideas.
Truth and Honesty
At one time or another, your employees are bound to disagree with you. The real question is whether or not they will feel comfortable enough to express their opinions in an open, honest, and productive manner. If your employees don’t feel comfortable disagreeing with you, they will keep their opinions to themselves.
Employees who openly disagree with their leaders, trust their disagreement won’t be met with retaliation. Likewise, leaders can trust their employees won’t withhold their true perspectives. This open atmosphere produces an environment where employees feel comfortable and respected. It also provides entrepreneurs with the confidence that comes with knowing their team is an active part of their organization.
When employees keep their opinions to themselves, it stifles the exchange of ideas, innovation, and growth. Worst of all, this can lead to resentment, and ultimately a negative work culture.
How to Cultivate an Environment for Positive Disagreements
The challenge for entrepreneurs lies in creating an environment which promotes a safe space for constructive disagreements without compromising leadership or respect with employees.
- Employ critical thinkers and experts – While constructive conflict leads to innovation, not all dissenting opinions are valuable. Strive to develop a team full of critical thinkers, experts, and professionals capable of building significant counter arguments for predicaments in their corresponding fields.
- Keep the lines of communication open – Whenever possible, provide the conversational space needed for employees to voice their various opinions. Typically, only the strongest employees will feel comfortable enough to express dissent. However, if you go out of your way to ask for individual opinions, employees will be far more likely to share them.
- Reduce negative consequences – The moment leadership introduces any type of negative consequence or retaliation, employees become more cautious and less likely to introduce their dissenting opinions. Never berate, embarrass, or undermine employees who voice their opinions. In the event that an employee becomes counterproductive, always handle your concerns privately and respectfully.
As long as you’re cultivating disagreements constructively, encouraging your employees to disagree with you is a sign of a strong and healthy organization. Constructive conflict helps leaders to learn from the perspectives of their most valuable employees and colleagues. Even if you don’t agree or change your mind, you will still experience the benefits of organizational critical thinking, compromise, and trust.