Embrace Your Dissenters
*Guest post by King Hickman, DVM and Founding Partner of GPS Dairy Consulting, LLC.
How many times as a dairy owner or manager have you had an employee of fellow manager show up and tell you all the things that might go wrong, or about why your recent initiative on the dairy won’t work? It is hard enough getting initiatives delivered without having to deal with these “dissenters” and, in the heat of the moment, your response may go something like this: “Bring me solutions not problems.” In my opinion, this could be a perilous mistake.
First, let’s draw a distinction between dissenters and moaners. Some people are never happy about any new initiative because it involves change which can be extra work for them. They complain and point out all the flaws not to help make the initiative better but to self-servingly undermine it. These are your moaners. Dissenters, on the other hand, are usually deeply committed to the success of the company and their dissent is an attempt to point out flaws and shortcomings that may jeopardize the success of the initiative. Dissenters don’t have that conversation in the break room with their workmates like moaners do, they tell their boss in person why they think it is a bad idea. They may even become more vocal once they have had a chance to think more about it.
Successful managers embrace the dissenters because dissent does three things:
- First, it drives a process to sort through ideas. Strong ideas stand up to dissent, weak ones don’t. Sometimes small tweaks to an idea make it much stronger and this can turn the dissenter into an advocate.
- Secondly, dissenters force everyone else to take a position on an initiative. This disrupts group think and encourages everyone to be more critical of the idea.
- Thirdly, dissenters help you to understand the risks and benefits of the initiative more clearly.
So next time you hear yourself saying “bring me solutions not problems” pause for a moment to see if you are talking to a dissenter, and if you are, maybe you need to listen. Remember, the smart manager will listen and try to properly understand why the dissenter thinks that the initiative is a bad idea and possibly make changes as a result.
Ignore these people at your peril.