Over time, the quality of a group's decisions depends on how the group handles dissent. Some groups regard dissent as an annoying obstacle to overcome. And once these groups overcome dissent, some of them regard the views of dissenters as views to be suppressed. Some even eject repeat dissenters. The actions of these groups expose them to risks that arise from excessively narrow perspectives about the issues they face. If, ultimately, events expose weaknesses in the majority's views, dissent-intolerant groups can find their ideological resources so impoverished that they cannot respond effectively to those events.
The effect is most pronounced when the issues in question are difficult to resolve on objective grounds, because the group cannot be certain that the majority perspective is complete and correct. In these situations, there is a non-zero probability that the majority is overlooking some important issues, or that it isn't weighing some issues appropriately. Rejecting the views of dissenters, and obliterating their views from the record, reduces the group's ideological diversity, which can prevent the group from accessing the benefits that arise from taking dissenters' views into account, even retrospectively.
These considerations are most important when they apply to decisions that have long-lasting effects or substantial impact on resources. For such decisions we can manage this "dissent risk" by recording the views of dissenters. Not their identities — their views. That practice has benefits and risks. Let's begin with the benefits.
- Dissenters feel heard
- Dissenters who feelFor its own wellbeing, keeping
dissent alive and vital is
the task and responsibility
of the majority heard are less likely to become cynical about the decision process. A faithful record of a dissenter's view on an issue is objective evidence that the majority has heard the dissent.
- The majority is more likely to take account of dissenters' views
- Because there is a record of the dissenters' views, any lurking doubt on the part of the majority about the rightness of their own views provides motivation to make adjustments to take account of the dissenters' views.
- Dissent quality improves
- Aware that their views will be recorded, dissenters become more motivated to express their views cogently and without rancor. This approach inherently makes their views more credible and persuasive.
- Spurious dissent is discouraged
- Recording their views discourages dissenters from expressing views that are insubstantial, because the record can make spurious dissent obvious, especially if the dissents are part of a pattern.
- Recording dissents helps the group learn
- Most important, the record of dissents enables the group as a whole to learn from its mistakes. When it reaches decisions that prove mistaken, and a recorded dissent demonstrates that the group could have adopted a more productive path, the group can explore possible causes of its error. That exploration can lead to learning.
And there are some risks.
- The practice of recording dissent can seem to some to be a plan for a later I-told-you-so revengeful attack on the majority. Dissenters who use the record in that way must recognize that such actions would be used as a basis for halting the practice of recording dissents. To mitigate this risk, groups adopting the practice can establish a norm that makes clear that using the record for I-told-you-so attacks is inappropriate.
- Encouraging malice
- There is a risk that the existence of a record can encourage dissents that lack real merit, by people who seek only long-shot opportunities to be right when everyone else is wrong. However, the record itself mitigates this risk, because the record can expose patterns of long-shot dissents.
- Ambiguity of the record
- If the dissent record is insufficiently clear, a decision failure can lead to incorrect conclusions regarding the merits of the dissent, or dissenters can claim "credit" when credit isn't really due. To mitigate this risk, write clear summaries of dissenters' views, and subject them to review by the dissenters.
Success in adopting the practice of faithfully recording dissents from important decisions does have a "price of admission." The group must acknowledge that dissent doesn't cause failure. Absent this understanding, the record of dissents can be used to make dissenters into pariahs. When that happens, we're back where we started — people withhold their dissents, and decision quality suffers. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Conflict Management:
- Divisive Debates and Virulent Victories
- When groups decide divisive issues, harmful effects can linger for weeks, months, or forever. Although
those who prevail might be ready to "move on," others might feel so alienated that they experience
even daily routine as fresh insult and disparagement. How a group handles divisive issues can determine
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- What Do You Need?
- When working issues jointly with others, especially with one other, we sometimes hear, "What do
you need to make this work?" Your answers can doom your effort — or make it a smashing success.
- Confronting the Workplace Bully: II
- When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation
is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
- Why Others Do What They Do
- If you're human, you make mistakes. A particularly expensive kind of mistake is guessing incorrectly
why others do what they do. Here are some of the ways we get this wrong.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenfPisQwhtshXzxJVvner@ChacUYLEiQVcXCoqJzufoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.