meetings (and elsewhere) can
opinion is valid for them at that
become problematic. Contests of
moment in time. People are more
personality become the norm and
likely to shift their opinion when they
productivity and collaboration suffer.
have not been forced to defend it.
Now consider the use of the word
Therefore, all opinions can be held
‘and’. When this is used by a
lightly and are open to evidence.
second party at the beginning of a
Disagreements are interpersonal.
response to a first-party comment,
By expression or implication,
the psychological response is
disagreement involves the word
totally different. The first party’s
‘you’. Disagreements assert that one
curiosity is triggered rather than
party is wrong. The aggrieved party is
their defensiveness. Active listening
likely to stop listening and to respond
is triggered. The conversation now
begins to move towards a dance of ideas.
In contrast, dissent is personal, not interpersonal. It makes no claim
Here are two simple suggestions
about the veracity of the other
that can enhance the quality of every
person’s opinion. Rather, it merely
meeting, strengthen morale, and
makes transparent the opinion the
nurture innovation and commitment.
speaker currently holds. An example
First, forbid the use of the word
might be: ‘My experience has been
‘but’ in meetings. Whenever the
different to yours’.
word ‘but’ is used, it is beneficial for another person to assertively
The intent of expressing dissent is to
respond by yelling ‘and’. While
be authentic. Because two people
this might seem ridiculous, if it is
differ in their opinions, this does
intended to improve the quality
not make either of them wrong. It
of meetings, then all participants
is perfectly possible for two people
can benefit by having undesirable
to hold contrasting opinions on
behaviours gently drawn to their
the same topic and for both of
attention. A dollar into a bowl in the
them to be correct. Dissent is
middle of the meeting table for each
acknowledgement of difference.
transgression is a great way to fund
This can trigger curiosity and in
the corporate Christmas party as
turn lead to a dance of ideas rather
well as build a positive, collaborative
than a contest of personalities.
Energy previously expended on
The second suggestion, related to
defensiveness can now be redirected
the first, is to forbid disagreement
towards exploration, mutual respect,
of any type. This suggestion might
active listening and the spawning
also seem ridiculous and so warrants
of new ideas. Meetings become
far more productive. By changing the nature of the conversation, the
People have opinions. Any person’s
culture itself changes.
About the author Ian Plowman, PhD Ian is a consultant, facilitator and social researcher with over 30 years’ experience as an organisational psychologist. He works with individuals, organisations, industries, communities and government agencies. He holds a Doctorate in Management (researching blockages to innovation), an Advanced Master’s Degree in Business Administration, a Master’s Degree in Organisational Psychology and an Honours Degree in Clinical Psychology. Ian helps clients to develop skills and awareness to remove organisational blockages and raise levels of engagement, creativity and innovation. He can be contacted via: Web: www.cooperativeconversations. com.au, or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin. com/in/ian-plowman-meetings
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