Agreeing and disagreeing

talkingAs we’ve been discussing, mutual agreement is a key for focusing on the common good. Oddly enough, so is disagreement. Like many other leadership challenges, balancing the benefits of each is critical for success within higher education. Effective collaboration does not mean working without dissent – it means communicating openly and honestly about your own and others’ viewpoints, even (or especially) when they aren’t the same.

A series of books including Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations provide tips for talking safely about areas of disagreement. In a recent blog post, the authors talked about “one simple skill to overcome peer pressure.” That skill is the polite and respectful expression of your concerns.

The blog described a study that replicated famous research, but with a twist. They asked participants to solve a problem with a clear right answer. When others in the group (who were in on the study) all gave the wrong answer, 2/3 of the subjects went along with the crowd, even though they knew it was wrong. However, when they changed the process and one of the others expressed doubt, almost all participants gave the right answer. Hearing someone else’s concerns gave them more freedom to say what they really thought.

As Anita described last year, the idea of dissent is essential for group accountability and commitment. Focusing on the common good means working across many kinds of boundaries with people who have many opinions and viewpoints. Creating safe space for disagreement, and listening respectfully to what others have to say, will allow collaborative work to move forward.

Dee Anne Bonebright




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