All of the chapters and articles I’ve been reading over the last month have had good advice to managers new and experienced. Don’t take things personally. Listen to your employees. Keep track of what works and what doesn’t so that a mistake is not repeated.
Then a coworker posted a link to an article in the New York Times which tied most of these readings together, but not in a way I expected. A less obvious thread emerged when I was presented with this new way of looking at things. Dissent can be a good thing. Dissent is not inherently negative. We need dissent to see new ideas and ways of doing things. To stop those conversations is to become a stagnant organization.
A lightbulb flipped on for me while reading the New York Times interview with David Sacks. It led me to skim through my readings and yes, there it was: “By being open to new ideas you will be more likely to see possible changes that will bring positive results.” “A supervisor is more of a coach than a director and more facilitator than commander.” “The manager who is concerned about people and productivity will seek to create an environment that encourages people to do their best.” (Fundamentals of Library Supervision; Gieseke, McNeil) “‘If you want your people to care about what you think, first make it clear that you care about what they think.'” (Stop Holding Yourself Back; Morris, Ely, Frei) “‘That wouldn’t work’ …not only kills [a] suggestion, but also reduces the chance of getting other ideas in the future. Any idea brought forward should receive courteous attention.” (Managing Children’s Services; Fasick, Holt)
These quotes sound too positive to be dissent, a word which tends to have a negative connotation in today’s workplace. While the Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions mostly further that connotation, the second definition is to “think differently, disagree, differ from (in opinion) from, +with, (a person)” and that is what Sacks meant when he said “I think you’ve got to create a culture in which dissent is valued.” If everyone thinks the same, if everyone agrees, then you only have one person innovating; the person at the top of the pyramid. While that person might have the most brilliant ideas in the world, they certainly have not thought of everything and could miss a crucial element that won’t allow their brilliant ideas to come to fruition, all because everyone below is used to blindly agreeing.
When I look at the managers I admire, I see that they are those who embrace this philosophy. It is not always easy to listen to everyone’s opinions and sometimes it feels like an unnecessary use of time. However, the step of listening to employees should be a part of the planning process, especially when a decision will be made that will affect the everyday tasks or the basic philosophy of those workers. Creating time for this in the decision-making process will save workplace moral, creating less friction that can affect productivity.