The Value of Dissent

By Dorothy Dowling

Wednesday April 12, 2017
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What are the vital qualities of a successful business strategy? How about hard work and experience? Yes, those would certainly be high on the list. Teamwork? Some of my biggest successes throughout my career are tied to some extraordinary people, so that would be included, too.

Ultimately, there are an endless number of variables that lead to success in today’s business world. However, one factor that doesn’t receive enough credit is both offering and owning dissent. Voicing and hearing a difference in opinion may be difficult, but if your peers are comfortable with providing an honest, constructive point-of-view, dissenting opinions will always get you to a better place.

According to an article from Harvard Business Review, for some business leaders, like FiveStars CEO Victor Ho, offering up a difference of opinion isn’t just encouraged. Instead, Ho said that you can’t be an effective leader unless you embrace your “obligation to dissent.” Ho learned this lesson earlier in his career when he worked for McKinsey & Company, a blue-chip consulting firm that believed “the most junior person in any given meeting is the most capable to disagree with the most senior person in the room.”

The article also points out that “very few people have the guts to dissent” because many leaders are not openly welcoming of contradictory opinions. But what if we were able to get those so-called “naysayers” out of our meetings? Would we be able to get as much accomplished as we might imagine? I doubt it.

In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Author Patrick Lencioni said that one of the five major hurdles that face many business teams is “fear of conflict.” Whenever tension arises within a group, this “dysfunction” can cause what Lencioni describes as “artificial harmony.”

“Harmony is good, I suppose, if it comes as a result of working through issues constantly and cycling through conflict,” Lencioni said. “But if it comes only as a result of people holding back their opinions and honest concerns, then it’s a bad thing.”

In addition to dissenting opinions, we should also be seeking out voices from groups with sizeable social and economic power, such as Millennials and women.

As Nick Martell, co-founder of MarketSnacks, said on Nasdaq’s The Millennial Report, Millennials are “digital natives,” or a generation that is “more accustomed to using digital platforms and digital media in ways that other generations aren’t.” Additionally, according to Martell, in less than a decade, 75 percent of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. Hearing perspectives from this generation, whose voice will eventually be the dominant one in the room, will only help to ensure that your initiatives have longevity and lasting appeal.

In a previous It’s Personal post, “The ‘Sheconomy’ is Here,” I discussed how today’s women manage finances of 85 percent of U.S. households (a number that increased by 5 percent from 2005 – 2015). By wielding that level of buying power, it is no wonder why more women are being placed in decision making roles throughout the business world. Listening to their voice, as Johnson & Johnson did when they removed harmful chemicals from their baby products, will only help to develop the long-term relationships needed to win her respect and her business.

Thanks to Best Western® Hotels & Resorts’ unique membership-based business model, where no voice is more important than that of our Voting Members, we do not have to worry about “artificial harmony.” Our executive team welcomes every opportunity for Best Western’s membership to be vocal on their points of view. That is precisely why Best Western hosts open forums at our annual Convention and District Meetings.

Having open and honest conversations between our membership and Best Western’s executive team has been vital throughout our brand’s history. It ensures that Best Western is keeping our hotel owners’ perspectives in mind and, in turn, that our membership is contemplating our next steps from a macro point of view. The remarkable progress we have made in the last 13 years, when I first joined Best Western, is a real testament to what can be achieved by inclusive collaboration and the willingness to take new or differing viewpoints into consideration.

I admire those who “have the guts to dissent.” In the business world, few are willing to expend political capital or potentially jeopardize their position in the company. However, if the dissent is constructive and if their coworkers are open-minded, that level of authenticity can be extremely valuable, providing the fresh perspective or new direction you might be looking for. Feel free to disagree.