After delivering a keynote, I will often provide ample time for participants to reflect and connect before we reconvene in a large group setting. Once we get back into the room and people have time to have processed what was shared in the morning, I ask people if anyone has any questions, ideas they want to share, or if they would like to challenge anything that I shared in my initial talk.
Often, people are a little thrown off by the last part, and I throw in a joke as a caveat.
“You are more than welcome to challenge me in the room right now, but what you can’t do is challenge me in the parking lot with a group of your colleagues at the end of the day when I am not there.”
The point of that comment is to ensure that if you disagree with something, I have the time to discuss it or change my own way of thinking. I have never seen myself as an expert in anything but someone trying to learn and grow. If I can’t be challenged in my thinking, how will I ever grow, and why would anyone be open to being pushed in their own learning if they do not see it in mine?
So why do I encourage people to challenge what I shared in those spaces?
A few reasons quickly come to mind.
1. It is essential to model that challenging ideas are crucial to the growth of any organization.
If you are in a leadership position within education and aren’t open to being challenged, then you aren’t open to the growth of yourself or the organization you lead. Being challenged doesn’t mean you agree with the challenge or even change your position, but it exemplifies that you are open to learning from those you serve. This was my mantra as an administrator. I don’t care if we move forward with my idea or your idea; all I care about is that we move forward with the best idea, no matter where it comes from.
Challenging thinking and doing is essential to growth.
2. My idea might not be wrong, but how I articulate my thinking might be an issue.
Encouraging people to challenge what we share allows us sometimes to refine or even redefine our ideas. I have learned that delivery is often as important, if not sometimes more so than the message itself.
3. The challenge from one is often the unsaid barrier for many.
Not everyone is comfortable pushing back on thinking, but sometimes, someone is, and they become a voice for others. The way I look at that situation is that I am thankful someone shares the “pushback” so I can address it in a way that may be addressing a concern for many.
It is impossible to deal with a concern if you don’t know what it is.
4. Wrestling and openly struggling with ideas is essential in learning.
If we can’t defend our ideas, maybe they aren’t that good?
Modeling civil discussions where people do not necessarily agree but are working together to find a solution to help our students and colleagues is more critical than ever.
And one last thought.
I wrote the following tweet in 2017 and believe it still to this day:
If “pushback” is more about the person and less about the idea, then not only do we lose people along the way, but we model to our students the opposite of what we have them aspire toward.
Challenging ideas in a civil manner is crucial in education to elevate others and make ourselves better.