Magazine article Psychology Today

Go Your Own Way

Magazine article Psychology Today

Go Your Own Way

Article excerpt

A LONE DEVILS ADVOCATE CAN CHANGE EVERYONE'S PERSPECTIVE. byMattHuston

RENEGADES TRANSFIX US-raising a hand in objection, standing tall amid the complacent crowd, coolly pronouncing, "I beg to differ.'' Challenging the majority takes guts. The desire to keep in others' good graces makes it tempting to keep quiet.

If you truly value the goals and reputation of your team, school, company, club, or clan, however, speaking up can be essential.

"Dissent is an instigator of change," says Dominic Packer, who oversees the Group Processes Laboratory at Lehigh University. "Groups can be forced to change by external circumstances, or they can change from within, which is often better and healthier in the long run." The very act of going against the grain can signal that not everyone is on the same page and encourage others to speak more freely. "Dissent doesn't have to be right to have a positive effect," Packer says.

For the conscientious group member, fretting overa boss's dubious idea or the direction of the organization, research offers some important lessons:

TAKE THE LONG VIEW

Even loyal group members will voice a dissenting opinion if they think it's in the interest of the group, but what's in the group's interest isn't always clear. Packer and his colleagues argue that our ambivalence about rocking the boat is tied to tension between short-term and long-term goals. Think of a busy person with a bad habit: He should quit, for his own sake, as soon as he can, but the daily grind intervenes. Members of a group are often more inclined to keep spirits high and projects on track than to turn attention to practices or beliefs that could end up harming the group in the future. The way we frame our discussions may tip the scale. Packer's research suggests that strongly identified group members are more likely to stray from the norm when prompted to think of the big picture. If you want to convince your group that an entrenched rule needs rethinking, raising the question of how it will affect the group several years from now "tends to open people up to change," Packer says.

PROPOSE A BETTER WAY

Rather than just complaining about a problem, bring multiple solutions to the table, psychologists Peter T. Coleman and Robert Ferguson advise in their book Making Conflict Work: Harnessing the Power of Disagreement. …

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