It is not unfair to say that the majority of us do not respond well to criticism, even when it is constructive. Most people would agree that a successful group discussion is one that ends in agreement, but is that ever truly the case? There have been many studies carried out on whether criticism and opposition are needed in team meetings. Unsurprisingly, research shows that opening the doors to debate results in more effective decision making.
A team meeting usually consists of a participant–usually someone senior–sharing an idea. Everyone listens and then nods, without any signs of dissent. Does this mean that no one has any suggestions, or does it simply mean that everyone would rather have a group consensus than share their valuable opinion? An idea, as described by the Oxford Dictionary, is “a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.” In this sense, an idea is inconclusive. It is a thought that needs developing. Without anyone contributing and giving their opinion on whether the idea works or not, how will the idea ever properly develop? Ideas need to blend with other ideas; they need to be questioned in order to grow and flourish as a working solution.
A study was carried out by Charlan Nemeth et al. on The liberating role of conflict in group creativity. The idea was to examine decision-making and conflict. During the study, participants were put into three groups with different conditions; there was a mind mapping, debate and controlled team. All of the groups were given a task: come up with some ideas on how to reduce traffic congestion. The group that was told to create a mind map was given the standard rules of the process, with an emphasis to “withhold criticism” when faced with a team members idea. The debate team was given similar rules to the mind mapping team, but instead of withholding criticism they were told to criticize an idea as soon as it was shared. Finally, the controlled team was given no instructions, only to come up with as many ideas as possible.
Once the teams had come up with their solutions, the total number of ideas from each group was calculated; there was no mistaking who the winners were. The group that was given no rules but only told to generate as many ideas as possible came up with the least. The mind mapping team was able to come up with more, but the debate team beat both with over 20 percent more ideas within the same time span. After the study was complete and follow-up sessions were done, the effectiveness of criticism on creating new ideas was even more apparent. When asked if they had any more ideas, participants from the mind mapping group and controlled group were able to offer only a few extra solutions. The debate team were actually able to offer, on average, an additional six ideas per person. In conclusion, Nemeth states that the “findings show that debate and criticism do not inhibit ideas but, rather, stimulate them relative to every other condition.” This really conveys that criticism and expressing varying opinions actually creates more ideas.
It may seem weird to think about becoming part of a culture that not only approves, but encourages dissent, but it is even weirder to live in a world where critique is non-existent. Improvement is based on finding flaws, and if we want to not only generate ideas, but ideas of high calibre, we must begin to question, even if it is just now and again.