Love Your Dissenters: Achieving Innovation in Disagreement

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We all spend a lot of time in our heads, and our internal narrative is mostly self-affirming. It’s human nature to fall in love with our own thinking and to assume it’s right on target. It’s not so common, but very useful, to challenge our thoughts, perceptions and conclusions from time to time.

When people disagree with us, we feel challenged, attacked or unappreciated. When others don’t love our thinking, we wonder what’s wrong with them. And, naturally, we become defensive. It’s much easier to attack our dissenters than to consider an opposing view or the possibility that our thinking is flawed. It’s not easy to embrace an opposing view as an opportunity to see things from a new and different perspective.

If we look for people who agree with and confirm our beliefs, we find them with ease. They are our “yes people.” They love the way we think. And we all feel good discussing, agreeing with and confirming one another’s views and opinions.

If we seek out those who disagree with us, we find people who challenge our ideas. They force us to refine our thinking, correct our faulty assumptions and offer alternatives to our own world view. It takes courage to invite these people into our lives when it’s so much easier to interact with those who agree with our thinking.

The problem is, if we only interact with people who agree with and confirm our views, we end up with stale, unimaginative and outdated thinking. It’s difficult to step outside the box of our own self-affirming minds. But the benefit far outweighs the risk. When we push ourselves to seek out and consider the views of our dissenters, we open our minds, invite new possibilities into our world and make innovation possible.

If we truly want to be innovative thinkers and outside-of-the-box problem solvers, we must force ourselves outside the box of our self-affirming minds. We must challenge ourselves to engage openly and enthusiastically with those who disagree with us most. By making this a practice, we might learn to love some different kinds of thinking.

 

This blog does not represent official policies of the Corporation for National and Community Service or those of the U.S. Government.

Jeffrey Page is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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16 Comments

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Profile Photo Jeffrey

Thanks Robert. Great article. Sarah Silverman modeled the very approach and behavior I was suggesting in my piece. It's so hard to do when our natural inclination is to lash out at and get even with the person who has attacked us. Emotional intelligence is understanding that those who have attacked us have done so as an expression of and outlet to their pain. Thanks for sharing. Jeff

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Tammy

Interesting article 🙂 I don't agree with challenging an idea just for the sake of challenging. Because we can does that mean we should? I can contemplate other viewpoints, mull it over and still stick with my beliefs, just as others will, no?

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Profile Photo Jeffrey

I agree that there's no sense in challenging an idea just for the sake of challenging it. It's when others challenge our ideas and perspectives that we tend to default to a defensive posture, as opposed to being open to other ideas, even if they seem to conflict with ours. We can always fall back to our original beliefs. It can be more challenging, interesting, and often eye-opening to consider other viewpoints. Thanks for commenting and considering my viewpoint. Jeff

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Profile Photo Jeffrey

Thank you, Cheryl. And too few leaders (or people who hold leadership positions) begin with the notion that a key role they play is to listen, learn, and understand so they may inspire, as oppose to pushing themselves and their views, and leading by force of will. Thanks. Jeff

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Robert Edward Owen

This is a great article that more people should read and with an open mind.
I'd like to pass this around but I would likely get pushed down the stairs again.
Our "Leaders" have the frame of mind that if they think it and say it, it must be the best idea and no one else's ideas should be allowed.

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Profile Photo Jeffrey

Thanks Robert. I've also run into a lot of leaders (or people with leadership titles) who are in love with their own ideas, and that's the end of the story. We need to keep pushing the message of open mindedness and radical candor, even if we get pushed down the stairs from time to time. The alternative is mass mind numbing. Not good. Hang in there. Jeff

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K. M. McDonald

Given the current, highly politicized work environment I am in (CMS program) , an outcome of the profound changes we need to adopt/adapt to, dissenting reconciliation is paramount to meeting our outcome objectives this year. Your article is timely, relevant, and on-point.

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Profile Photo Jeffrey

Many thanks K.M. Glad you found the piece relevant and pertinent to our current environment. Best of luck with your efforts to adopt and adapt to dissenting viewpoints. Jeff

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