Dissenting at work: there’s a way to do it right

publication date: Apr 4, 2013
author/source: Janet Gadeski

Are you comfortable voicing dissent from the prevailing opinions, processes or plans in your workplace? Most people aren’t. Those who do it risk damaging their own relationships and internal career path. Those who don’t may fear that they’ll lose valuable connections and won’t make a difference anyway.

Fortunately, there is a way to speak your mind with both diplomacy and impact, says communications professor Johny T. Garner. Here’s his strategy.

Talk to the right person

You want to change something, right? So talk to the person who can actually fix it or will recommend the fix to someone even higher. Talking to your colleagues usually comes across as simple whining, although it may make you feel better in the short term.

Package a complaint with a solution

If you’ve already thought about how to solve what’s upsetting you, it’s harder for people to dismiss you as a mere grumbler. Structure your conversation so that there’s more emphasis on the positive (the solution) than the negative (the complaint), and you’ll be remembered as someone with ideas rather than gripes.

Stick to the facts

Avoid emotional displays, no matter how upset you are. Your colleagues and your manager will be more likely to listen to you if you are calm, factual and focused.

Don’t threaten to quit

Ultimatums backfire, Garner emphasizes. If you threaten to quit, your employer just might take you up on it. Even if your pressure tactics work in the short term, you’ll damage your relationships, your reputation, and your long-term prospects with the organization. And if you back down, he adds, you’ll certainly lose credibility.

When to dissent

For Garner, it seems that the question of when to question the way things are done is the most challenging of all the issues around dissent. Think critically about the status quo, he recommends. There may be a good reason for it. If you still feel you have a better means to the same end, then evaluate yourself, your relationships and the organization’s culture before stepping out to complain. You need to reflect on what is really important enough to speak up about.

Read Johny T. Garner’s full post at http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/02/how_to_communicate_dissent_at.html

This article is excerpted from a longer discussion in the March issue of Gift Planning in Canada. Subscribe NOW or download a sample copy.

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