General counsel, during discussions of complex topics at staff meetings with their direct reports, produce from time to time a chilling effect. Once the top lawyer takes a position, everyone else typically scrambles to support it or freezes into silence (See my post of Jan. 17, 2006 on passive-aggressive behavior.). Although some techniques help thaw the chill (See my post of Feb.1, 2006 with two.), the sina qua non is sensitivity by the general counsel to the conversation-stopping risk.
Surely one of the hardest lessons is to listen for other views before stating one’s own, yet even harder to become adept at encouraging different points of view. Any action of importance has two or more sides that can be pressed, so unanimous agreement without dissent or question likely means that someone is suppressing doubts.
Along with deferred commentary and provoking some controversy and alternatives (See my post of Jan. 10, 2006 on methods to increase creativity.) the alert general counsel will view the discussion as an intellectual debate, not a political or personal dogfight. This sound advice comes from Strat. + Bus., Winter 2006, Issue 45 at 160.
Easy advice; difficult techniques – but a free exchange of ideas will amply reward the law department.