Teach & Serve II, No. 18 – Disagreement and Dialogue
December 7, 2016
It’s just so much easier to only consult yourself and it feels good. You are the leader. You have all the answers. Cue the swelling violins.
Picture the scene if you will: it’s towards the end of a long day at the end of a long week at the end of a long month. An extended break lies minutes away, if you can just get out of your classroom or your office. You have a few things to do, but the end is near. You can feel it. You can sense it.
You want it.
As you reach to unplug your device and switch off your light, someone is in your space. This person just wants a few minutes. Just a few.
You’re a good teacher. You’re a good leader. You settle back in.
“What’s up?” You ask.
“I really disagree with that decision you made.” You are told.
What happens next?
Does our body language stiffen? Do our eyes roll? Do we get defensive? Do we evade?
What happens next has a lot to say about what kind of leader you are.
Far too often when decisions are questioned, leaders tend to immediately defend. Leaders tend to immediately explain. Leaders tend to immediately justify.
It makes sense (assuming decisions are thought out, thought through and thought about) to defend them. They have been arrived at with consideration. They have been put in place. They have been enacted. Why are they being questioned? It makes sense that we are ready to explain when our decisions are challenged. But is that the right course?
What if we asked questions, instead? What if our approach to disagreement invited dialogue? What if we validated the question of our decision by validating the person asking the question?
“What part of this don’t you like?” we might ask. “Why is this troubling?” we might ask. “What else should we consider?” we might ask.
Often, we don’t ask these questions. We are sometimes more invested in the decision than in the people it affects. We are sometimes worried about what engaging on questions like these says about us as strong leaders. We are sometimes too stubborn to listen.
We should listen. We should engage. We should be less invested.
Hey, some decisions must be made, made quickly and adhered to, but not all. On those decisions where we can talk, where these is give and take, we’d be well advised to do some giving, to encourage some taking. Our leadership is stronger when we can be questioned. Our decisions better when they can be explained.
Those we lead will trust us and our decisions more when we talk through them and engage in healthy dialogue and disagreement about them. They will trust us more when we trust them and illustrate that trust by our openness to this kind of talk.
Imagine if we modeled this. Imagine in our mode of engagement with disagreement became the standard way our schools operated. Imagine what it would be like if constructive conversation was the result of question and if disagreement was not feared and avoided. We know that avoiding small disagreements is the first ingredient in the recipe to create larger ones…
Clearly, the above scene is a set up. You’re tired. You’re looking to leave. You’re ready for a break. However, if we can present our best selves when we are not at our best, how much better can we be when we are? If we are practiced at respecting disagreement and encouraging dialogue as a matter of course, it should not matter if we are at the end of the day or the beginning, at the end of the semester or the start.
When we encourage healthy dissent and constructive dialogue, we shape a collaborative environment. That’s the kind of environment we should desire to build.