IT leadership: 4 ways to foster healthy disagreement among employees

Conflict, even among members of the same team, doesn't have to be toxic. Consider this expert advice to help resolve disagreements productively
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At their best, disagreements can reveal when an organization has built a culture of critical thinking and is tackling challenging problems. At their worst, they can damage working relationships and lead to emotional burnout.

As a leader, you can help your employees work through disagreements in a productive and healthy manner by building a culture of awareness that considers a diverse range of opinions and working styles.

1. Incorporate a personality test into team-building exercises

When people are aware of their tendencies, they are more likely to check them. Personality tests prompt self-awareness and typically feature recommended working styles and approaches for different types of teammates. This can uncover new ways of collaborating effectively across a diverse range of people.

[ Also read 5 tips to prevent IT team burnout. ]

2. Encourage employees to speak up when they disagree

Encouraging employees to speak up when they disagree can help increase participation from everyone, which ultimately leads to an environment of innovation. When differing perspectives are brought to the table, organizations are forced to think through opposing solutions, which ensures conclusions are well-considered.

One tactic for encouraging this type of discourse is to designate someone the "devil's advocate" for a given discussion, tasking them with the role of contrarian to ensure all ideas are explored.

Curiosity makes disagreements feel less personal, which helps prevent employees from feeling personally attacked or emotionally burned out.

[ Read also: How the Kaizen mindset fosters smart contrarians on your IT team ]

3. Encourage curiosity when a disagreement arises

When a disagreement goes beyond a casual discussion or even becomes heated, it’s important to maintain a sense of curiosity. Encourage employees to lead with 'why' – rather than judging or dismissing – when considering other people's ideas. This can help develop deeper conversations.

With this attitude, employees will feel more inclined to learn about each other’s perspectives rather than focusing on the perceived flaws of opposing stances. Curiosity makes disagreements feel less personal, which helps prevent employees from feeling personally attacked or emotionally burned out.

[ Read next: 5 ways to create an empathetic organization ]

4. Ensure that all employees feel comfortable expressing their opinions

Most people don’t want to disagree. To avoid an environment where only the most outspoken members of the team are heard, take time to understand how those who are more reserved feel, and ensure that their perspectives are also considered.

Ultimately, leaders are responsible for leading by example. By building a culture of awareness and fostering healthy disagreements between yourself and other employees, you can shape the environment that you wish to create within the organization.

[ Learn how CIOs are speeding toward goals while preventing employee burnout in this report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation]

Jane Pennoyer is Chief of Staff at Finch, a digital sustainability tool that shares products’ environmental and social impacts with functional reviews from real people. Recently, the company launched its new Chrome extension that ranks potential purchases when you’re browsing on Amazon, based on six environmental impacts and real reviews.