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Improve By Disagreeing
I was at a meeting the other week when one of those annoying corporate sound bites was used to shut someone down, you know the ones that seem to sound right but when you stop and think about it a little they make zero sense at all.
We've all heard and probably, unfortunately, used them from time to time but this one is one of the dumbest ones I can think of: "you can't criticise if you don't have a solution", if you want to kill great discussion and innovation then this one is your go to put down.
Putting Up Barriers
The whole idea of this one seems reasonable, be part of the team, add ideas grow the outcome. In reality this one is usually used to close people down not open them up. This one tends to get rolled out in meetings where someone is pitching an idea that they are fully invested in, they have built the idea and have their solution which couldn't possibly be improved or worse wrong.
When someone starts to point out things that perhaps haven't been considered or impacts in other areas that need to be built in or would make the new plan unworkable out it comes: "What's YOUR solution?" and when you rightly and opening admit you don't know then the follow up comes in "you can't criticise if you don't have a solution" so to translate that to what the person is really saying is simple, "this is my idea, you should shut up because I don't want your input".
The result is the person trying to help feels dismissed and is far less likely to want to contribute again and so the business loses those ideas. It's also more likely that you will build barriers to future co-operation after all who wants to work with someone who will just shoot them down.
Disagreement is a Good Thing
Lets just be clear what the definition of criticism is according to the Merriam Webster Dictionary:
2. to find fault with: point out the faults of
Now if you were an open type of person who was interested in the organisational success rather than your own personal grandeur then surely you would be open to someone essentially giving you feedback on things to help improve them? What actually happens is that people hunker down and defend their idea, their patch because the culture of the organisation is adversarial and that's not a good thing, you never want an adversarial culture but you do want a culture open to challenging each other to being able to disagree.
It's only through the disagreement and passionate debate that follows that disagreement that you can really pull out the great ideas that are in your teams and build a solution that really works but as importantly can be fully supported by everyone, because they had a chance to way in on the discussion. By shutting everything down with your "you can't criticise if you don't have a solution" retort you lose that debate and the improvement of the idea.
Disagree To Improve!
It sounds counter-intuitive but really when you think about it the whole reason that you look to improve anything is that you disagree with the current way of doing things and want to make it better.
When any discussions take place and you want to make sure that you have the very best outcome you need to encourage people to voice their disagreements with any part of what is being discussed, in fact you want to make it clear that you expect people to voice those disagreements no matter how small because that's what will make the whole thing better.. The disagreements are always about the subject matter never personal and the job of the leader is to help ensure that the discussion stays on point and doesn't end up personal. Invariably there will be something and it needs to called out and brought back online.
It's also important to realise that you want people to be able to say, "look I don't know the answer, but these are the issues I see with the current proposal". This opens up the conversation and perhaps someone else in the room has part of the solution. This all helps to build trust among the team and improves their ability to really discuss and argue the merits of any option.
Eliminate the Sound Bites
If you want to build your team, increase trust and get better solutions to things then you need to look at the organisation and kill all the sound bites that are used to shut people down or close off discussions. Open things up for criticism, embrace it, have the debate and at the end you will come out a far stronger, faster and more aligned organisation.
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