Simon Terry

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Opposition is engagement

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Many years ago I pitched an initiative to a senior executive group. The presentation went without a hitch. There were no hard questions and no push back. I walked out of the meeting pleased until a wise mentor of mine asked a devastating question:

What level of engagement was there in the room?

My mentor went on to point out that without pushback it is unlikely anyone in the room actually turned much of their mind to my initiative. The lack of pushback was bad news because it meant that support would fade quickly and little follow through would occur. Sadly, he proved right.

That day I learned a lesson to bring on questions, debate and conflict to generate engagement. No matter how compelling your case for change, you need debate to get people to consider the options, risks and issues. Without debate, people don’t agree. They just acquiesce.

Debate, questions and conflict are an essential part of how knowledge gets attention, currency and is shared in organisations. You can’t advance a meaningful agenda without them.

If it feels like you lack opposition, then there’s a good chance you are inadvertently playing to the safe ground. Platitudes might win unthinking support. That might work for a while, but there’s a risk you will lose your support when real challenges arise.

If others aren’t bringing debate, then start the debate yourself. Raise the hard questions and doubts. Provoke your likely opponents. A real discussion upfront is always better. Knowing where you stand as a change agent is critical.  It will give you valuable information on what to do next to move forward.


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