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Why Your Meetings Need a Bad Guy

A designated dissenter’s job is simple - they have to disagree with everyone in meetings, no matter what.

by Nazarena Luzzi Castro — Posted on July 2nd, 2018

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How many times have you been stuck in a meeting room, with peers presenting their ideas, and somehow the conversation turns into favoring idea “A”, and you didn’t even get a chance to suggest idea “B”? You didn’t get the chance, nor do you feel comfortable saying it out loud due to everyone being so eager to agree on something. And so you don’t say anything, and you think to yourself, “idea A is probably better anyway.”

That’s where “Designated dissenters” come in. They are the bad guys that save the day.

A designated dissenter’s job is simple - they have to disagree with everyone in meetings, no matter what. It’s a tactic that works magic when most people in the room are favoring a certain option. This person helps us see the holes in argument A and makes room for us to consider argument B. Not only their voice gets heard, but make sure everyone else’s voice are heard as well.

And it is safe for us to say that in that meeting, where Mic Drop was agreed on, there was no designated dissenter - no person to question the idea and point out the holes in the experience.

Jonah Berger, a Wharton professor and bestselling author, says “As long as everyone’s saying the same thing, well then it seems like A is the right answer and you should go along with the group, but if someone dissents, if there’s one dissenting opinion—even if they have a different opinion than yours—now it’s not a right-or-wrong answer, it’s a matter of opinion. And if it’s a matter of opinion, everyone feels much more comfortable sharing their own.”

Without these bad guys, and I say bad guys because no one in meetings wants to be disagreed with, we’d have…well, what happened in Google back in 2005. Google decided to launch “mic drop”, a feature added to Gmail, on April Fool’s day. Mic drop was a button, right next to the “Send” button, that would send your email, but with a gif. As you can imagine, this went horribly wrong - people lost job offers, offended others, etc. And it is safe for us to say that in that meeting, where Mic Drop was agreed on, there was no designated dissenter - no person to question the idea and point out the holes in the experience.

So, bad guys aren’t so bad after all - they will help your team of good thinkers make GREAT decisions. And in the end, everyone gets their turn.