By 1st Lt. Tiffany Caguitla
386th Expeditionary Medical Group
I’ll always remember the time a technical sergeant on our team disagreed with me during a meeting by telling me I was “overthinking the issue, and there’s a better solution.” I was a little taken aback. No one on our team ever contradicted my ideas in public, and I certainly never heard that I “overthought” situations! Who did he think he was?!
Interestingly enough, our program was failing, morale was low and I was at my wits end. Despite regular meetings and attempts to squeeze ideas out of our team, no one had the courage to address the real issue: Me. While his approach might seem a little harsh, it was exactly what we needed. I would pick him for my team over any technical sergeant I’ve ever worked with.
Our team was comfortable talking to one another when it came to “safe” topics but seldom disagreed in public…especially with the boss. It might appear this general sense of agreement created an empowering, harmonious environment; encouraging open expression of opinions without fear of retribution. That was hardly the case. Our team members were so afraid of inciting conflict, they spent more time avoiding it or complaining in private rather than working through disagreements and reaching successful solutions. Perhaps this culture developed because previous leadership discouraged a respectful debate. Maybe disagreements led to serious conflict in team members’ professional and personal lives so they felt it was safer to “go with the flow” rather than “face the current.”
There are many reasons why disagreements are intimidating and even painful, but they are necessary for growth. Mahatma Gandhi said, “Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.” Where would our country be if Abraham Lincoln decided to keep his opinion on territorial issues to himself in fear of looking like “the bad guy?” What kind of country would we live in if Rosa Parks neglected to voice her disagreement over racial segregation in fear of inciting conflict?
As I reach the conclusion of this week, I’m reminded of that bold technical sergeant and how his approach can be extremely beneficial in a deployed environment. Most of us only have six months to learn our jobs, mesh as a team and have a positive impact on the overall mission at The Rock*. Why waste that time avoiding disagreements and maintaining the status quo? If we really want to embody the Air Force’s core values, we have to have the integrity to step back and take an objective look at our situations. We have to put our service before ourselves and risk potentially uncomfortable situations for the sake of strengthening our team. Finally, we have to embody excellence by choosing our battles wisely and speaking up when silence will risk ineffective mission accomplishment and unit cohesion. After all, how many of us truly appreciate a “yes man?”
*Editor’s note: The Rock is a deployed location in Southwest Asia.