When we work or live with people we begin to think the same, act the same, even value the same things. Sometimes we don’t even know how much the people we are around influence us until we step into a different group. We also tend to surround ourselves with people who are like us – our values, our opinions, our preferences and our beliefs. Without even knowing it we have created a world where we are comfortable and our options and values are supported.
The down side is that no one ever challenges or feels free to think and act differently. People who are not like us may not feel comfortable in our presence and their opinions are minimized because they are not like ours. Those who think and act differently are seen as wrong, rebels, defective or simply avoided. Before we know it group think has crept in and now silently controls the group.
I spoke to a man who joined a new group that was moving down a certain path. Within months it was obvious to him that the path was a bad idea. He listened and was patient, and did not feel comfortable expressing his concerns. He sat back to think long and hard about how to express his divergent opinion. It was obvious to him that the leader had the idea and no one challenged it because the result wold be catastrophic to their career within the organization. He polled his colleagues and they too saw the down side of the path, and yet none of them wanted to be the one to speak up. To this date he has not said anything and is biding his time on how to proceed – stay and keep silent, stay and rock the boat, leave and find somewhere else where his opinions would be valued.
We say we are open to hearing how other people think. We know we need to value the divergent opinions of others. We understand as leaders that we need to listen to and invite the opposing views within our groups. The challenge is that an opposing opinion invites more work, chaos, and an expectation that action or change will occur. If we listen we may create more wok or rework to make things right. If we do not listen or even allow differing views we end up alienating others and eventually they leave, which confirms that we only want people around us who think and act like us. It takes courage to be different and allow different opinions, yet without the variety of thought we become complacent, vanilla and bland.
We live in a country built on the idea that diversity, differences, and variety are the fabric of our culture. We were founded by people wanting to get away from their opinions being silenced, yet human nature leads us back to that path everyday. We surround ourselves with people like us and avoid people who are different than us. Change, conflict, and variety add spice to life which also means we may be uncomfortable more than we like. Different is not always bad. When we learn to embrace and listen to the opinions of others we find that things get better, we become better and we understand how everyone thinks or acts. Being with people like us may feel nice but it isn’t reality. Not everyone thinks or acts like us. As leaders we need to include, value and listen to divergent thoughts and ideas to keep progressing and bringing about valuable change.
I dare you to muster the courage to be the divergent opinion. The groups you are in need your unique thoughts and ideas to push them to be better. If you don’t say it, who will? If you don’t push the group, how will they get better at what they do?