The Power of Negative Thinking
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P. Sloan, one of America's first celebrity CEOs, wasn't afraid to shake things
up in the board room - which might explain how he was able to revitalize General
Motions at a time during the 1920s when it was close to bankruptcy. At one
meeting of his top executives, Sloan said: "Gentlemen, I take it we all are in
complete agreement on the decision we've just made." Everyone nodded. "Then,"
said Sloan, "I propose we postpone further discussion until our next meeting, to
give ourselves time to develop disagreement - and perhaps gain some
understanding of what the decision is all about."
as in Sloan's time, most organizations today need less complete agreement and
more constructive conflict. Rather than discouraging resistance and negativity,
leaders should surround themselves with people who can debate passionately
before a decision is made - and then unite behind the final decision.
that's easy to do? Think again. An opposite set of dynamics is at work in most
organizations. Too many people sit in meetings and keep silent, or gloss over
the effect a given proposal will have on their department or co-workers. They
sit quietly while the leader proceeds as if everyone is aligned. But this
"consensus" is not real. Later (in "off the record" conversations) these same
folks undercut or sabotage the proposal.
management's side of the equation, too many leaders are like Samuel Goldwyn (the
fabled head of Metro Goldwyn Mayer) who once said, " I don't want any yes-men
around me. I want them to tell me the truth, even if it costs them their jobs."
Goldwyn's comment underscores the concern that even if a leader sincerely wants
to hear dissenting opinions, most employees -- especially at lower levels of the
organization -- find it difficult and uncomfortable to speak up in a formal
setting. They're unsure whether the leader genuinely wants to deal with
conflict. And they fear ridicule or retaliation for "being negative."
culture of teamwork, based on developing familiarity and friendly cooperation
between employees, can result in congeniality taking precedence over the
introduction of ideas that might prove unpopular. In an environment that values
collaboration as the top priority, employees hesitate to take any action that
causes tension or appears to be divisive.
want to take concrete steps to build constructive conflict into your
decision-making processes, here are a few suggestions:
Assign someone on your team to the role of "Devil's Advocate" to ensure a
part of your group to think like the firm's competitors (or customers or
employees) in order to surface and expose flaws in a set of core assumptions.
Establish "ground rules" that will stimulate task-oriented disagreement -- but
minimize interpersonal conflict.
the proceedings "transparent" by making decisions based on what goes on in the
meeting and not behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
sure your team members represent a diversity of thinking styles, skill levels,
and backgrounds. And if they don't, invite people with various points of view
to offer their perspectives.
Start out with a question and don't voice an opinion. Once you've said,
"Here's what I'm thinking . . ." you have already influenced your team.
you want honest feedback, then be the first person to admit mistakes.
Listen (really listen) to everyone's ideas. Let people know that you value
their input and are taking into consideration what they have to say.
Clearly state the behaviors you want during the discussion (constructive
conflict) and as a result of the discussion (shared commitment to the
most successful organizations will be those who can harness the power of
creative collaboration without falling victim to "group think." Perfecting this
delicate balancing act is going to take leaders who understand how to foster
About the Author
Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.is an international
Keynote speaker on collaborative leadership and the impact of
language in the workplace.
coach to executives to improve their leadership presence and
Leadership blogger for Forbes and author of "The Silent Language of
Leaders: How Body Language Can Help - or Hurt - How You Lead.”
Carol@CarolKinseyGoman.com Authors Google+
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-29 22:11:27 in Employee Articles