Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Is Disagreement a Form of Knowledge Sharing?

Many of you will be familiar with 'TED Talks,' which is such a great way to share ideas, insights, viewpoints and learning virtually. As with everything, quality varies and the measurement of what is interesting is a subjective thing.
Another vehicle used in the ‘TED’ series are the TED Conversations, allowing people to post questions and have others respond, similar to what LinkedIn allows. Usually however, these comments on 'Ted Conversations' are thoughtful and provocative, meant to add value not necessarily add to one’s popularity, as can happen with LinkedIn.

Gowtham Reddy of Hyderbad India posted an interesting question: “In what ways may disagreement aid the pursuit of knowledge in the natural and human sciences?”
I love this because I believe discourse is a way to build on what you are learning. No one can learn from simple and continual agreement, no one stretches in that way. But honest and respectful disagreement, dialogue, discussion, now that is where you start to build, to uncover context for people’s viewpoints, to integrate new ideas. Honest and respectful—those are key terms.

That doesn’t mean the exchange can’t get a bit heated, emotional or passionate. None of those words has to rule out being respectful. Passion is a good thing, where dominance or disrespect are not useful and can be quite hurtful.
Of the 26 responses Gowtham received, many stated that they thought it critical to have disagreements and that disagreements can build knowledge, but only if open communication and open-minded attitudes are present.
Why then are we so afraid in many of our organizations to disagree? If an organization wants to thrive, to be the best it can be, to move forward quickly and intelligently, there must be enough variations of opinion to ensure all avenues of knowledge and information are considered.  If you must agree, there are no checks and balances and you can be assured missteps and mistakes will be repeated. No organization can afford that. And yet, people in many companies feel disagreement puts them at risk.
As a consultant I have witnessed this first hand. I have seen people allow research projects to continue even when they know they are not going to succeed because they are afraid to disagree. I have seen money spent needlessly on decisions that are not effective because people thought their jobs might be at risk if they brought forward another viewpoint.

Shouldn’t it be just the opposite? Shouldn’t people who do not bring forth another well considered respectful opinion when they have it, be fired for not speaking up?
And why should this even be a consideration? Time. That is what I have heard from leaders—we don’t have time to disagree.
Can you imagine? You have time to redo, you have time to start over, but no time to disagree.
What that tells me is that people do not know how to respectfully and concisely disagree, have a dialogue about the problem they are trying to solve, express the various viewpoints and make a good solid decision. They don’t know how to do that efficiently and effectively, so they fear that disagreement and decision making take time.
Sometimes when we are off path, it can be so obvious from the outside and so consuming when you are in the middle of it.

For knowledge to be shared fully and completely, we must be allowed to disagree. We should be expected to have varied opinions. We must be each other’s check and balance.
To express disagreement effectively and respectfully we must know how to present our arguments and how to determine what factors are critical in decision making.
Yes, knowledge sharing happens during respectful, honest and concise disagreement. And building the competencies to get there can only help an organization thrive

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