A favorite podcast around our office is Two Guys on Your Head, hosted by the University of Texas’s Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, and produced by Rebecca McInroy. In each episode, the doctors and McInroy discuss and explore how the brain works to shape our realities. The podcast’s recent topic, Amicable Dissent, caught our attention even more than usual. (Although we’ve never heard a not awesome broadcast from this trio.)
It’s in this episode, the doctors make a great case for developing the essential skill of friendly disagreement. Their discussion on the topic supports our perspective that friendly disagreement among teams in a business setting leads to acting on the best solutions, and saves companies a lot of time and money. But such progressive outcomes don’t happen simply because there’s a lot of arguing going on. Results come from the second layer of friendly disagreement, the part where some group members begin to form new thoughts and gain new perspectives, ultimately making it okay to proceed with an idea they didn’t originally support.
To be able to accept new contradicting thoughts and, on the other end of the bell curve, to be able to change one’s mind entirely, are skills rarely taught in our current culture. What a huge miss for professionals and entrepreneurs everywhere! There used to be a lot of shows on television where viewers could watch people with different ideas debate and disagree in good spirit. Viewers could even see individuals learn new information, and reanalyze their thoughts to change their mind on camera before the world, and it was totally acceptable. Sadly, you don’t see this type of skill being modeled in today’s media or in other parts of our culture nearly as often.
Changing one’s mind has been correlated with weakness. While it’s true that changing your mind for self-serving reasons like to gain political votes or entrance into new social circles can make a person seem fickle, it actually takes a lot of strength and character to change one’s mind based on a noble search for the best solutions. Especially when the old ideas are anchored in strong beliefs, values and historical experience. To do so takes enormous emotional effort and brainpower. It usually happens over time as a person reflects on the new ideas introduced, and addresses the Cognitive Dissonance – when the brain holds two conflicting thoughts at the same time. The brain works to bring conflicting ideas into compatibility with one another and boy, does it make you want to take a nap! But what’s happening is tremendous.
What’s happening is, you’re becoming a more capable person. Because you’re able to shift your thinking in support of a more robust solution, you’re getting quicker, smarter, and more agile. You’re becoming a master problem solver because you’re getting more comfortable with the act of problem-solving.
You don’t have to change your mind to realize the benefits of amicable dissent. You only have to acknowledge that conflicting perspectives matter. For instance, after listening and contemplating deeply another person’s perspective, if you still don’t agree with the ideas that conflict with your own, that’s perfectly fine! The point is that you’re listening and contemplating. Because you do that, you’re becoming someone who understands the motivations of others. You are truly able to understand the “why” behind what they want and the choices they make. And that makes for an unstoppable leader.
Let’s work harder to improve our productive conflict skills, neutrally sharing our disagreements and openly listening to new perspectives. Enjoy letting your mind explore circumstances and challenges through the eyes of someone else without fear of losing your identity. If you arrive at a new conclusion sparked by someone else’s feedback, be sure to let them know! That will encourage more sharing and build an environment that welcomes educated mind-changing. Sticking to your idea for the sheer perceived strength won’t serve you or anyone else.