Dissent as Thinking: Dare to Disagree

Gratitude to Daily Good and the ServiceSpace community for inspiration (and affirmation) today that good disagreement stemming from diverse perspectives within relationships is central to progress in personal as well as societal growth (and needed healing to bridge gaps between vision and reality).

It’s true that most of us instinctively avoid conflict that leads to important growth… meaning allowing our boats to be rocked (or intentionally rocking them ourselves) and upsetting the status quo into CHANGE. Change can be very challenging and taxing, and also oh so wonderful. Testify!

Yet, as Margaret Heffernan illustrates (sometimes counterintuitively) in this TedX talk, the best partners aren’t echo chambers and are willing to be fearless and kind in offering us their dissenting voice — and how great research teams, relationships and businesses allow people to deeply disagree. Some of our best leaders are not afraid to wake up, stand up and give the shout out on things happening in our lives that many of us would rather not look at, let alone name and give voice to. There are usually consequences, yes?

Below are a few salient snippets from the talk, and it’s worth listening to her entire presentation for sure.

4:55      So for 25 years Alice Stewart had a very big fight on her hands. So, how did she know that she was right? Well, she had a fantastic model for thinking. She worked with a statistician named George Kneale, and George was pretty much everything that Alice wasn’t. So, Alice was very outgoing and sociable, and George was a recluse. Alice was very warm, very empathetic with her patients. George frankly preferred numbers to people. But he said this fantastic thing about their working relationship. He said, “My job is to prove Dr. Stewart wrong.” He actively sought disconfirmation. Different ways of looking at her models, at her statistics, different ways of crunching the data in order to disprove her. He saw his job as creating conflict around her theories. Because it was only by not being able to prove that she was wrong, that George could give Alice the confidence she needed to know that she was right.

4:55      It’s a fantastic model of collaboration — thinking partners who aren’t echo chambers. I wonder how many of us have, or dare to have, such collaborators. Alice and George were very good at conflict. They saw it as thinking.

5:21      So what does that kind of constructive conflict require? Well, first of all, it requires that we find people who are very different from ourselves. That means we have to resist the neurobiological drive, which means that we really prefer people mostly like ourselves, and it means we have to seek out people with different backgrounds, different disciplines, different ways of thinking and different experience, and find ways to engage with them. That requires a lot of patience and a lot of energy.

5:57      And the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think, really, that that’s a kind of love. Because you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care. And it also means that we have to be prepared to change our minds.

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