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Chocolate and Agreement: Too Much of a Good Thing?

“I definitely agree with you!” Don’t we all like to hear these words? They are words that speak of acceptance, validation and kinship. They make us feel good. They increase our serotonin level, exactly like chocolate. And like chocolate, too much is not good for us. We need other food. The same happens in business: Too much agreement is not good for us, neither for the business.

But what exactly are the risks of too much agreement?
And what can we do about it?

Well, we all know how nice it is to find agreement around us! The words “I agree with you” are especially welcome when we feel stressed, under pressure, running against a tight deadline or overwhelmed by many responsibilities. That is probably why many senior executives like to hire “yes-people”; it feels as good as chocolate; but it is dangerous.

One of my clients recently experienced one of the pitfalls of creating too much agreement, or - said in other words - of not encouraging dissent or alternative opinions. A newly promoted Sales Manager had just implemented an “agreement-based training program” with his new team, promising a steep improvement of sales results, but actually sinking sales quite quickly. It was unclear why this could happen so fast and in spite of best intentions. As we looked into it, two facts emerged:

The “agreement-based” training - designed and implemented by the new Sales Manager himself and intended to provide crystal clear sales tools for every occasion - turned out to be based on “learning the right answer for each case” according to a rigid table (supposedly covering all possible doubts, questions or objections), that sales people had to memorize and practice.

The Sales team turned out to be stressed by some recent redundancies and anxious to please their new boss, in order to try and keep their job; thus no one dared to express dissent, although everyone knew deep in their heart that the training was nonsense.

I challenged the Sales Manager, asking him some critical questions. He quickly realized that his anxiety to perform well in his new role had clouded his thinking. In his eagerness to share his own experience and “teach what works”, he had actually created such rigid rules that his team was more focused on remembering what to do than actually listening to their customers.

The main surprise for the Sales Manager however, was that nobody in his team had dared to disagree with his suggestions. “If only someone had openly expressed a doubt”, he said, “I would not have been so self assured”. When I inquired further, he acknowledged that he had picked some occasional signs of dissent, but quickly pushed them aside, so much more pleasant it was to feel reassured of being “right”.

This is one example of the risks involved with too much agreement. When we succumb to stress or time pressure, and look for quick agreements to soothe our anxiety – like eating chocolate against the blues – we fool ourselves and encourage risky behaviors in others. When we discourage dissent, we open the door to the many dangers of “yes people”:

  • “Yes people” execute blindly and do not feel accountable.
  • “Yes people” worry more about themselves, than about the common or company's best interest.
  • “Yes people” forget to listen and learn.

In an environment dominated by fear, we can all become “yes people” and create other “yes people”.

If there is too much agreement around us, it is time to seriously consider the health of our relationships and of how well we really are impacting the business. Agreement might ultimately harm relationships because of insincerity and harm the business for lack of accountability.

If you wish to improve dealing with disagreements, facing and voicing dissent with courage, curiosity and a smile, do reclaim your free Discovery Session to find out how we can help.

Interested in a free "Handle Conflicts with Ease" Discovery Session?

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