The goodness of difference
Updated: Dec 5, 2021
It is very seldom that we hear people say how much they love conflict; in fact, healthy disagreement is important to developing a progressive organizational culture. Oftentimes organizations prefer to operate from sameness and become what is referred to as “echo chambers” to keep established ideals and norms and behaviors. This type of communicating shows how prevalent this behavior and mindset is across organizations and how much fear is rooted in highlighting existing, damaging patterns and protocols. The primal feeling of fear is at the root of these organizational cultural behaviors that are in some instances precipitated by leaders.
Great leaders should not impose their vision on their followers, rather allow them the freedom to participate in bringing their ideas forward and allow followers to feel part of redefining strategy and making a difference. I wonder how many leaders would truly embrace their followers' differences as a welcome addition to organizational development?
The key is for leaders to develop conflict resolution skills to encourage followers to constructively challenge or point out troublesome existing norms, and ideals. That starts with changing their perception of conflict. This is called this “good disagreement” which would cause the leader to seek “disconfirmation” which promotes greater follower engagement in a more meaningful and purposeful way for the organization.
Studies in this area found that people in organizations that took a conscious effort to ignore pointing out the issues in front of them for fear of reprisal or just getting into any form of disagreement. Think of the “whistleblower” terminology which is a negative connotation with disastrous outcomes in many instances, and creates more fear, even if well-intentioned. Leaders can encourage their followers to step outside of sameness and be supported through it. Can organizations walk in such authenticity, valuing disagreement to such an extent?
Hefferman, M. (2011). Willful Blindness. Why We Ignore the Obvious. London: Simon and Schuster.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2017). The leadership challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations. Hoboken, Nj Wiley.
Hefferman, M. (2012). TEDGlobal. https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_the_dangers_of_willful_blindness#t-10383