Where do you allow dissent?

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I’ve recently been in a number of environments where everybody has been so keen to encourage positive discussions that I’ve ended up coming away with a flat, slightly unreal feeling – interesting conversations that never really reached any depth.  It’s reminded me of the big “hoorah” sessions that organisations regularly run for people around any one of a hundred different initiatives.  Organisers are (like recent conferences) so focussed on getting everyone excited, they don’t allow for some fairly basic human issues.

Like dissent.

In my days as a PR consultant or a communicator, the idea of dissent started off as being a threat to be smothered or diverted as early as possible.  The possibility of someone disagreeing with the corporate line generated a degree of fear and prompted distinctly managerial responses.  After a while,as I became increasingly uncomfortable with the approach this required, I became a (sometimes lone) voice for open discussion of both positive and negative aspects of an issue.

Far better, surely, for people to have a wider reflection of a situation and hence make an intelligent, informed choice about their response than to have some glowing, unrealistic ideal picture that can only generate disillusionment or outright hostility when it, inevitably, turns out to be false.

I find it disturbing still when, as happened on the CommsNetwork recently, people start sharing best practice on how to suppress negative news and opinions in an organisation.

Let’s not pretend that that’s even possible.  Eliminating dissent in public fora and public communications, in addition to highlighting a dishonest, untrusting approach, merely drives it into informal areas where debate and discussion of alternative perspectives is limited and where the dissenting view will be magnified and spread.

Far better, as part of any comms programme or internal strategy, to build in situations and places for dissent to arise, be debated and dealt with openly.

I wish I could say that the real issue here is where that dissent can best take place (and I would love suggestions and thoughts on that topic) but if I’m honest I don’t think we’re there yet.  First we need a greater acceptance of the value and need for dissent.

I guess I’m dissenting from the common view of dissent.