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Posted on: Friday, 28 May 2010 by Rajiv Popat

One of my first teams kicked some serious butt. We shouted at each other, we used the F-word rather generously and when that did not work, we raised our volumes to a level that would blow the office roof sky high.

Then when the fight was over and the best solution had won, we would go out and have lunch together with no hard feelings.

That was my understanding of strong opinions and disagreement.

These were two very useful tools to reach the best of solutions. During my times at Multiplitaxion Inc, I often tended to respect guys who had strong opinions weekly held and had  the conviction or the spine to disagree with me.

Disagreement was loud.

Disagreement was a good idea-validation-check.

Disagreement was good.

It was only during the later part of my career that I bumped into a different form of disagreement that confused me and left me totally dumbfounded.

Ladies and gentleman, if you haven't met 'Silent Disagreement' you are one lucky son of a gun.

If you have, you know exactly what I am talking about.

This is a form of disagreement where someone sits smack across the table to you in a meeting, nods his head in agreement to everything you have to say and then goes out and does just the opposite.

Consider an arbitrary example for instance. Assume that everyone in  your organization, starting from the lowest programmer fresh out of college, all the way up to the chief-executive-officer agree on having a free open internet access policy.

You call the group who is responsible for maintaining the restrictions on firewall in a meeting where you tell them to drop all restrictions from non-work related sites like Facebook or You-Tube. You are going to trust your employees work ethics more than a firewall, you tell them.

Everyone nods in agreement.

You wait for the firewall policies to change and Facebook to get unblocked. Nothing happens. Days later someone higher up in the management sends a flame mail, asking that all sites be unblocked immediately, and everything gets unblocked, only to get re-blocked a couple of days later.

You call another meeting to discuss what went wrong here. Did we disagree on something? Did we not collectively decide that we were going to have an open internet policy? Did we not agree on that? Didn't we waste an entire day discussing the pros and cons on having free internet and trusting your employees versus blocking non-work-related sites?

Strangely enough, even in this meeting, everyone agrees to the idea of an open internet policy.

Strangely enough, non-work related site still remain locked down.

It is then that you realize, that you are not dealing with rational, thinking, objective individuals who believe in strong opinions weakly held. You are up against folks who take every argument personally, folks who indulge in strong flavors of mitigated speech and folks who do not express their disagreement in words but instead choose to disagree, silently.

During my career as a software developer I have seen countless examples of silent disagreements. I have seen examples of folks who think that they should say 'no' to their managers but who lack the spine to say 'no' to their managers on their face, so they resort to silent disagreement. I have also seen folks who think that they are working for the 'best interest of the organization' and use silent disagreement to avoid all arguments or discussions.

Assuming that you can bring about change in your organization, if there is just one thing that you can change, I suggest you put an instant stop to silent disagreement within your organization. This is another one of those issues that you are way better of confronting rather than avoiding.

Go on, confront the folks who tend to disagree silently, and demand an open objective argument or total agreement through not just words, but action.

I wish you good luck.