Listen to the dissenters

By Stanley Arumugam

I did not feel like getting involved again with this team. Our initial session was intense, almost toxic, though we made some progress. When they requested follow-up, I was not sure. Some were obviously committed to working things out, but the other camp was resisting at every turn. In the middle of a full load of work, spending the afternoon with this team was not appealing, but I accepted, rather reluctantly.

We started with review and reflection of the journey to date, but as soon as we did our round robin, the ‘dissenting’ team member let fly with a monologue that stopped everyone in their tracks. She asked if it was useful to even address unresolved issues and what that would do for the team.

We then discussed whether the team was up for exploring these difficult issues again. It felt important to hear out the dissenter who’s perspectives usually questioned/opposed other team members. At the end of an initially awkward conversation the team agreed the need to revisit the tough, difficult issues – even though it felt like going into a painful past. How the conversation took place was really important. In a safe, guided way the team was able to surface issues that were still under the water. Things that would have been lost if we just wanted to move on.

This was only possible because we chose to listen to the dissenting voice. Despite the team’s initial desire to keep the positive momentum, avoid further anxiety and move on, the dissenting voice forced us to slow down. It turned out to be a gift as we got to grips with heartfelt issues. As a facilitator I learned a powerful lesson in holding space for a dissenting team member. It did not result in stuckness, but in significant progress.

This week:

  • Which dissenting voices do you need to listen to?
  • Where do you need to allow deep and maybe heated discussions to take place?

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