Being a leader means not only navigating difficult conversations and decisions, but also facilitating them for your employees. Recently, Harvard economics professor Gregory Mankiw shared how he uses his seminar course to bring students with opposing views into a room, gets them to get along, and by the end of the course, even inspires them to be friends. This is a necessary life skill that goes beyond the classroom. Here are four of his methods that you can bring into the workplace.

1. Intentionally create diverse groups.

Though many students apply to be in his 10-person seminar, Professor Mankiw's main goal is to build a diverse group. "The economics profession has been accused of having a toxic environment for women. To the extent that's true, gender balance helps counteract it," he recently wrote in the New York Times. Mankiw hand selects the students in the seminar to represent a diverse set of opinions and beliefs. He selects his students to be gender-balanced (five men and five women) and politically balanced.

Whether you're building a new team or organizing a meeting, assess your list of participants with a lens of diversity. Will a variety of viewpoints be represented in the room? If not, consider adding an additional guest or two to balance it out.

2. Expose your team to different viewpoints.

Professor Mankiw's booklist is one that represents a diverse set of economic views. For example, the class reads French economist Piketty's "The Economics of Inequality" for a perspective on the left and "Fair Play: What Your Child Can Teach You About Economics, Values, and the Meaning of Life" by economist Landsburg for perspective on the right. Even when students disagree with an author's views, they are able to appreciate the strength of their arguments.

Whenever possible, expose members of your team to different perspectives--even ones that may be controversial. The best ideas come from listening with an open mind. When people are stuck in their own minds, they risk missing important information that could negatively affect their work.

3. Inspire people to think critically.

In each meeting, Professor Mankiw pushes his students to ask questions about what they've read. Unlike reading a textbook and taking everything as fact, reading in this class is about considering, analyzing, questioning, and challenging the implications, as one would for a book club. Through this process, students are forced to think about which arguments are unreliable, which ones are more persuasive, and most importantly, which ones cause them to reassess preconceived notions.

As you've likely experienced, no productive progress is made when two people with dissenting opinions are arguing about who is right. To make for more productive conversations, facilitate an inquiry-based approach. Inspire team members to consider--and question--others' beliefs as well as their own.

4. Encourage people to share perspectives.

In building his team for diversity, Professor Mankiw expects and encourages students to share their perspectives, knowing that the group, by design, will not agree. Still, the seminar meeting is a safe space, and students learn to appreciate one another's views and start to build trusting relationships.

When people are able to share perspectives in a healthy environment, they build deep bonds with one another. Even if they disagree, they learn to appreciate others' viewpoints, making for a safe and productive workplace.

Of course, being a leader is a lot like being a professor. If only there were a textbook!

Published on: Sep 13, 2017
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