Disagreement Can Be Healthy — Really

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

In this age of social media, it might seem that every disagreement involves virtual shouting with every comment in ALL CAPS THAT JUST SCREAM LISTEN TO ME!!

Back in the real world, there is real value in politely expressing a contrary opinion. That can actually be a path forward to true progress. Rarely does someone express a new idea, especially in business, that is so fine-tuned and well thought out that it cannot be improved upon.

Picking apart holes in a good idea helps makes it better. It also encourages the originator of the idea to see things from a slightly different perspective that who-knows-how-many people might share.

Writing for Inc.com, Justin Bariso sums up this process with two words: healthy disagreement. “What exactly is healthy disagreement?” he asks. “Why can it be difficult to achieve? And how can you display it at work and at home? The answers to these questions are rooted in the study of emotional intelligence, the ability to understand and manage emotions.”

Bariso goes on to define healthy disagreement: “Healthy disagreement is the ability to openly, honestly, and respectfully present an opposing opinion, instead of simply going along with what’s presented. A culture of healthy disagreement improves the quality of a team’s work by exposing flaws in singular ways of thinking. Healthy disagreement also promotes innovation and helps teams avoid groupthink.

“To keep disagreement healthy, teammates must remain respectful. Without mutual respect, disagreement can easily become toxic and devolve into personal attacks, destroying the culture of a team or the atmosphere in a home.”

As easy as that it is to say, anyone who has been in a close relationship, romantic or professional, knows how difficult it can be to simply express your true thoughts without offending your partner or colleague if your perspective is at odds with theirs. Most people don’t like to offend, so they err on the side of not offending — in other words, guarding their thoughts and expressions so as not to give offense. That shuts off any chance of giving constructive criticism. That dynamic increases exponentially in group situations. Peer pressure works to constrain people even if that pressure is subconscious.

Bariso describes the situation and also offers a positive outcome by saying, “Put simply, people are often afraid to be different.

“For example, a series of experiments by psychologist Solomon Asch showed that a large percentage of people (up to 75 percent) tend to go along with the decisions of a group, even when the decision doesn’t make any sense. This has to do with what we call ‘social conformity,’ or, in more simple terms, peer pressure.

“Interestingly, Asch found in his experiments that when just one person spoke up to give a correct answer, the number of subjects willing to conform dramatically lowered. In other words, by simply voicing your opinion, not only can you gain confidence to do the right thing when surrounded by others who don’t, you can actually help others do the right thing, too.”

There’s a reason, though, that some people say — there’s no such thing as constructive criticism, there’s only criticism. It’s because it’s so difficult to offer a suggestion for improvement in a positive way. That starts not with what you say, but how you say it. There are formulaic ways to offer constructive criticism, but these often sound like exactly that — formulas. Perhaps the best advice is to say what you honestly think, and keep in mind that a little humility goes a long way — state what you truly think but remember that you might be wrong.