Managing disagreements in the workplace

If you have read my previous posts, you’ll know I’m big advocate for encouraging open communication in the workplace. Constant two-way communication is vital for managers to get valuable feedback and for staff members to have their say and feel heard. But saying you encourage and welcome feedback, good and bad, is one thing. Having staff who actually feel comfortable enough to do so, is another thing altogether.

Like it or not, there’s an implicit power imbalance between staff and managers. This makes giving negative feedback, particularly if you disagree with your manager’s decisions, a tad uncomfortable. No one wants to lose their job or put their neck on the line to voice a disagreement with their boss, and most employees are more inclined to avoid voicing their disagreements. Traditionally, managers are seen as the ones with power, and disagreements that employees had were raised (if at all) in a careful way that respects this power imbalance and doesn’t upset the manager too much to put themselves in the bad books. Old school managers (and they still exist today) can view staff that disagree with them as non-team players, as ‘difficult’, and take it as a sign of a lack of commitment, disrespect and lack of loyalty on the part of the employee.

Disagreement = engagement

This is a bunch of ego-centric nonsense of course. In fact, these kinds of leaders are detrimental to overall business results and toxic to the corporate culture, allowing resentment, fear, disengagement and even hostility to flourish. Any forward-thinking manager should encourage engagement on all levels and see disagreements from staff members as a sign of active engagement in the business. If an employee disagrees with decisions being made, they are showing that they care, take pride in their work, feel like they are a valuable part of the business. When employees disagree with decisions or processes, it should indicate that they are passionate about the business and are invested in the outcomes of the business. Such feedback should always be welcomed and encouraged. 

A good manager needs to stay open minded and accepting of the fact that employees are bound to disagree with certain decisions. They ought to encourage disagreement and train staff to actively express their disagreements without negative repercussions. This should be structured and become part of the corporate culture.

The benefits of encouraging your staff to disagree with you:

  1. Mistakes can be avoided. We are all human, yes, even leaders! Accidents and mistakes happen. A lot. If employees are not encouraged to speak up, challenge decisions and disagree with their manager if they see something is being done wrong, then unnecessary and avoidable mistakes will keep happening.
  2. Employees stay engaged and feel heard. Its essential that employees are part of the overall decision-making process and are encouraged to actively challenge decisions being made by others. Done in a tactful way, staff who can raise concerns and put forward their own argument for why they disagree with something, can unveil valuable insights from a perspective that was not thought of before. Ideas and thoughts need to come from all levels of the business, from the customer-facing employees and from the leadership team. Differing perspectives from these differing business departments mean that there will always be differences of options and priorities but having a culture that deters people expressing these opinions and ideas is toxic and leads to dis-engaged and unmotivated staff. Not only that but the company misses the opportunity to listen to other thoughts and ideas that could be much better than the current way of doing things.
  3. The company won’t miss opportunities to stay relevant. Having a culture where employees are afraid to disagree, means leaders don’t get to hear the valuable and insightful perspectives of staff at all levels of the organisation. If staff are encouraged to share their disagreements aboutworkplace practices, workloads, task assignments etc, the company becomes more open to change and more open to doing things differently. To doing things better. The business can stay more relevant with this open culture and operate much more efficiently.
  4. Non-compliant managers can be spotted and weeded out. I’ve seen this a lot. Many people in leadership positions struggle to admit mistakes or to admit they don’t have all the answers. They don’t know how to accept disagreements and, often, they don’t like them. It’s not a good effect on the business and the overall morale. If these types of managers have to work in a company whose culture is structured to give employees permission to disagree and managers the obligation to listen and act on disagreement, it could well shine a light on those managers who can’t hold up their end of the bargain when it comes to disagreements.  

Do you have a workplace culture where employees feel free to disagree with their managers? Will the managers or leaders listen? What if employees see something that is wrong or could be better? Are they encouraged to speak up? Disagreements in the workplace are inevitable. Having a culture that allows employees to voice them should be celebrated.

Could you and your leadership team do with one of my tailored workshops? I’d love to share my experience and fool-proof leadership techniques with you. Don’t hesitate. Get in touch today.

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