It's nice to have people around who support you and are of like mind. Agreeable people boost your confidence and allow a certain level of relaxation. Most of us develop a stable of people with whom we like to work. We know their styles, and they know ours. It's comfortable and expedient. It is easy to find a rhythm, and it works. Unfortunately, that level of comfort can stall the very learning and innovation that can expand your company and your career.
It's nice to have people agree, but you need healthy conflict and differing perspectives to dig out the truth from a group-think and ideation. If everyone in the group has a similar point of view, your work will suffer from confirmation bias, rarely breaking boundaries and creating often unnecessary failure.
Take a look at your own network. Are your contacts the same ones you've had for years? Are they all in the same industry? Do they share your point of view on most subjects? It's time to shake things up and get uncomfortable. As a leader, it can be challenging to create an environment in which people will freely dissent and argue, but as my good friend and colleague Amilya Antonetti says: "From confrontation comes brilliance."
Here are five tips for engaging people who will expand your perspective and increase your success.
1. Identify where you are stale. Actively seeking conflict is not an easy thing for most people. Many spend their lives trying to avoid arguments and heightened discourse. There's no need to go out and find people you hate, but you need to do some self-assessment to determine where you have become stale in your thinking and approach. You may need to start by encouraging your current network to help you identify your blind spots. Additionally, make a list of the five people who have made you most uncomfortable in your life and list the reasons why. Then use the list to create a picture of the ideal opponent for your way of thinking.
2. Go where the battles are. As people get more confident in their abilities, they often create habits that limit the way they source ideas and information. Fox News and MSNBC bank on this philosophy. Seek out social networks and groups that are outside your normal way of thinking. Use LinkedIn groups to find diverse perspectives. Pursue the writers of posts that make you react strongly. Find the people who make you uncomfortable and invite them into your conversation.
3. Engage in friendly debate. Passionate, energetic debate does not require anger and hard feelings to be effective. But it does require strength and assertion. Once you have worthy opponents, set some ground rules so everyone understands responsibilities and boundaries. Establish structure to your discourse so people can feel safe. If people are worried about negative repercussions, they will hold back or, worse, disengage completely, and then you'll be back to the same stale environment. Remember, the objective of this game of debate is not to win but to get to the truth that will allow you to move faster, farther, and better. When that happens, everyone wins.
4. Check in regularly. Fierce debating can get emotionally brutal, particularly when strong personalities are involved. It doesn't take insults and name calling to make people feel small and upset. Make sure you check in with your adversarial colleagues to make sure they are not carrying the emotion of the battles beyond the battlefield. Break the tension with smiles and humor to reinforce that this is friendly discourse and that all are working toward communal success. A good way to reinforce the objectivity is to actually switch sides in the debate. It's hard to take it personally when you can argue on behalf of your opponent.
5. Share rewards and gratitude. The purpose of all this hot and stressful discourse is to achieve success for everyone. Make sure that all that are involved in the debate are amply rewarded when the goals are reached. Let your sparring partners know how much you appreciate them for being fierce and vulnerable. The more appreciated you make them feel, the more they'll be willing to get into the ring next time.
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