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Improve Team Communication by Disagreeing and Dissenting

To improve team communication, note that there's a big difference between effective team communication and efficient team communication.

Unfortunately, teams confuse the two and strive for efficiency. This leads to quick decisions and an ability to check off tasks and move on. So what's wrong with that? Graphic Showing Arguing in a ConversationIn the quest for efficiency, effective team communication is lost.

Over-valuing efficiency expedites discussions and means that ideas go unchallenged. Decisions are often made before dissenting opinions have a chance to fully form, let alone get expressed. An emphasis on efficiency disrupts critical thinking and suppresses deeper dialogue.

Improve Team Communication by Spending a Little More Time

You may have to sacrifice some efficiency to get effectiveness in team communication. Shortcuts seldom result in the highest quality decisions. Cutting "to the chase" can leave some team members behind.

One reason it can take longer to get all voices and perspectives represented is that teams typically move too fast. Extroverts may express their ideas quickly and without putting a lot of thought-processing time into them. If others readily go along with the first ideas proposed, people who tend to be more introverted can find themselves left out of the conversation. The gavel drops before they've even had a chance to formulate their position.

When this happens, teams miss out on well-reasoned points and counter-points that take more time to develop.

It's worth noting that quick conclusions and early agreement doesn't necessarily validate the strength of a decision. Most air-tight decisions follow examination, introspection, debate and dialogue that invites a diversity of thinking.

Improve Team Communication by Taking More Relationship Risks

Debating, for many, seems too much like arguing. In a misguided attempt to preserve group harmony, team members can harm the group by signaling that dissenting opinions are not welcome, appreciated or valued.

Some may hold back because there is positional power and the perception that disagreeing with a senior team members is frowned upon.

And then there's good, old-fashioned peer pressure. The desire to be liked and accepted can override the desire to contribute one's own ideas and perspectives. If supporting the majority keeps important relationships intact, it's easy to see how this can feel like a valid choice.

On teams, we need to make it okay -- even expected -- that people will pose challenging questions, force a closer look at areas that could be glossed over, and push back against ideas they don't fully understand or support.

Strong teams build relationships on respect for a diversity of thought and expertise. Don't let these strengths be lost because people don't feel validated enough to speak up.

Improve Team Communication by Getting a Little Bit Uncomfortable

Disagreeing and debating and dissenting isn't comfortable for most people. Within a team, though, this discomfort is occasionally necessary.

When you see a team member taking risks to offer an opposing view, empathize and try to ease the discomfort. Ask questions to draw out even more of the alternative perspective. Dignify the individual even if you don't agree with his or her position. Treat others the way you want to be treated when you don't agree with something.

When you are uncomfortable, ask yourself if what you're challenging is big enough to merit additional discussion. Pick your battles. Earn the right to be heard by also hearing others. Don't be the team member that always looks for negatives because that could erode your credibility (which you need when it's time to debate the issues that matter most to you).

It's Worth the Time, Risk and Discomfort to Improve Team Communication

Taking time to hear all members of the team draws out perspectives that can strengthen your decisions and will build better buy in for them, too.

Being willing to invest in deeper relationships rather than settling for superficial ones built on being a "yes man" earns you respect and ensures that you'll contribute to the team at a higher level.

Proceeding to express your opinions even when you're uncomfortable is a critical quality for becoming influential and having a meaningful impact.

A great starting point for teams who want to develop these skills and liberate the contributions from all team members may wish to consider doing some up-front work. These dynamics and the trust and vulnerability that precede them isn't automatic.

There are many good assessment tools to help with this. I personally prefer the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) because it is comprehensive and doesn’t over-simplify in a way that offends some. Rather, it offers a construct for communicating effectively in a team setting -- listening, understanding, speaking and resolving conflict to improve team collaboration.

The MBTI assessment tool helps teams improve communication, conflict resolution, decision making and collaboration. It enables team members to understand how they can leverage their style differences to benefit the team. It provides a language and practical tips for bridging gaps between people.

Best of all, this assessment has helped many teams build a foundation of trust. It’s one of our “secret weapons” to build organizational strength by putting people first.

Listening is an essential skill in utilizing dissention and disagreement as a team communication tool. If you would like to improve your listening skills, sign up for our free, interactive workshop on the People First Leadership Academy!

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