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Diversity: Strengthening the Federal Workforce with a Variety of Viewpoints

I was given a great gift.

A colleague disagreed with me. I was expressing my satisfaction on a piece of work that I consider a signature accomplishment. She reflected on the same, but characterized it as a lost opportunity. I thanked her for the conversation, in particular, for caring enough about what I had to say to share her viewpoint.

Disagreeing with someone is a gift. Diversity of perspective is the hallmark of a strong organization. It is harder to stir up concerned dissent than to maintain apathetic silence, so I am grateful when people take the time to offer an alternative perspective. No strong organization is fed by a daily diet of compliance and quiet assent. Curious, respectful dissent drives creativity and open minds to new possibilities.

As we argue about how to get somewhere we may lose sight that, in many cases, we are headed to the same place. I am reminded of this when I Google directions. Often Google provides three different routes to the destination and even more if you are driving, walking or taking public transportation – many choices that all end up at the same place. Spirited debate doesn’t mean we don’t share common principles. After all, the clocks of the world’s major cities may show different hours, but they all are on the same minute.

I can think of times working with a group of people where we seemed to have reached consensus, and one brave soul speaks out to challenge the group think. The false consensus is revealed and, in time, the epiphany of the lone dissenter will enlighten the room.

Concerned dissent is not anarchy – we can rock the boat without sinking the ship. It’s important that our public voice be one. Our collective aim to build a great community reminds us that dissent is often a conversation about means, not ends. Concerned disagreement is a rare gift.

Imagine how strong our discourse would be if we began conversations with: You and I are headed to the same place. Now let’s talk about how we get there.

Thanks for all you do.

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Submitted by Anthony Romanello.

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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