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Office Taboo? Encouraging Contrarian Viewpoints

In 2015, Disruptive product, Innovation, Marketing, News, Product Management, Product Teams, Project Management, Sales, Strategy, Take Charge Product Management, Uncategorized, Voice of the Customer by [email protected]Leave a Comment

It has been said that all organizations are a bit tribal. They are perceived as rewarding those who follow the herd and don’t stick their necks out too far. However, organizations that adopt this approach are walking upon a slippery slope that in the worst cases mutes important voices that can create positive change or transform a tired and stuck in the ruts business.

The challenge for many businesses is encouraging the right voices to step forward while eliminating the office ogres who use their position or access to valuable information to intimidate others. This is not an uncommon problem as recent data suggests that 35% of workers deal with an office bully according to research from staffing firm OfficeTeam. Managers and staff need to face these troublemakers head on. No one should get a pass for negative behavior, it undermines teamwork and performance, no matter how valued that individual may be. As the saying goes “one bad apple can spoil the bunch.”

5 Tips to Keep In Mind

In order to ensure you are encouraging the right voices here are some things to keep in mind.

  1. Seek out divergent opinions. Organizations should encourage team members to take a wide range of positions and not keep their opinions to themselves. Often company culture knowingly or unknowingly suppresses the honest opinion of employees who are more often punished than rewarded by voicing a divergent viewpoint. However, properly channeled corporate bravery can pay dividends. Leaders need to realize that diplomatic dissent can actually help the organization avoid debacles. If everyone is afraid to tell the emperor that he has no clothes the outcome can be disastrous.
  2. Reach deep. Leaders tend to listen to the closest concentric circle of trusted advisers who act as a sounding board and to bounce ideas off of. Too few executives reach deeply enough into the organization to get candid viewpoints. Lower ranking employees tend to shy away from voicing their opinions if they hear executives table their opinions first. (If you have ever had a post interview session with a job candidate and had the most senior person table their view of the candidates fit and then ask for opinions from the rest of the interviewers you likely know what I mean!) Let lower ranking employees table their opinions before the most senior employees that way they can be encouraged to be candid without fear of being impolite.
  3. Devils advocates are valuable. Encourage team members to play devils advocate and stake out contrarian points of view, even if they don’t reflect their personal opinions. Piercing questions about assumptions being made, potential risks or consequences prevents group thinking and tables a wider array of perspectives that can improve organizational decision-making.
  4. Canary in the coal mine. How a leader reacts to an appropriately presented question or comment that goes against the corporate grain sends a signal to everyone in the company about the risks or rewards of stretching the bounds of the existing culture. If an executive adroitly addresses the question or comment and sincerely thanks the person who asked the question it encourages those who have something meaningful to say and contribute. The inverse also holds true.
  5. In repetition lies danger. When jobs and cultures become routine it is a sign that the culture is enabling complicity with the status quo. The telltale signs are employees who settle in, keep their heads down and do as little as possible. Complacency breeds a lazy risk averse culture. Heed the warning signs.


The truth is contrarian viewpoints should be more highly valued than they often are. How well does your organization enable the voices of contrarians and address the antics of the office ogres?

You know who you are!

Source: Investors Business Daily, Manage Office’s Ogres by Sonja Carberry


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