Embracing Dissent

Standing out from the crowd is one of the most difficult things anyone can do. Being different brings attention and quite possibly negative reactions from the crowd. Most people do not like becoming the center of so much focused (negative) attention, and who could blame them?

Charlan Nemeth writes in his book In Defense of Troublemakers, The Power of Dissent in Life and Business:

“Sadly, nearly all of us punish dissent. We don’t like disagreement with our beliefs, and we are very capable of inflicting punishment on those who oppose our views when we are in the majority…Dissenters are rarely liked. The majority will try to convince the dissenter to change and, if unsuccessful, will reject him. To be sure, dissent has the potential to draw a range of reactions – sometimes confusion, occasionally respect or envy. But most often the reaction to the dissenter is irritation and ridicule.”

What is interesting here is that real change and innovation are spurred on by dissent. The status quo is challenged and questioned by dissent. History is filled with names of people who were innovators in all walks of life, but who also were ridiculed and rejected for their radical ideas. All of these people believed that their ideas were greater than the social pain and stigma that the ideas produced.

And there lies the key to your ideas, goals and dreams. They must be important enough to you that you are willing to endure every kind of rejection, ridicule, derision, contempt, and sarcasm. Your voice must not be silenced by those who do not see the value in your ideas.

This is easy to say and write, surely, because we all need to eat, and rejection does not typically enhance our reputations at work or in whatever groups we are parts of. This is an important area where leaders must recognize that new ideas and real change often come in the form of dissent. Leaders must be willing and able to identify and break free of groupthink, while encouraging radical new ideas.

This sounds dangerous, but in reality, not every idea is going to be embraced. The important thing is that the idea is truly heard, debated and decided upon. This is how learning occurs. Everyone approaches and sees problems and the world through their unique lens. Everyone has a different lens that was shaped by their past experiences. These lenses continue to be reshaped every day as new experiences and information is processed.

Reshape your lens. Practice embracing dissent rather than punishing it. You never know what you might learn.


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