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Critical Knowledge inSight: Handling Dissenting Opinion

A dissenting opinion occurs when you have a person or persons that have a different opinion than the majority. Bringing up this dissenting opinion and clearly explaining why a differing opinion has been formed are both important aspects to healthy communication in an organization.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, describes in the video how to handle dissenting opinion during complex missions. Gerstenmaier provides tips on how to get people to speak up about any concerns they might see from their unique perspectives and expertise. He also describes the personal responsibility people have for giving their dissenting opinion during missions.


    1. 1.

      Need to solicit dissenting opinion from project teams and reviewers, and create an environment where people feel free to speak up.

    2. 2.

      Make sure you as the decision-making authority can explain and show understanding of the dissenting opinion back to the dissenter.

    3. 3.

      Individuals have a personal responsibility to bring up their dissenting opinion.

    4. 4.

      Make sure that your leadership knows you are encouraging dissenting opinions and that some ambiguity on issues is OK.

    5. 5.

      Develop a process to deal with dissenting opinions.


Leadership and the entire NASA workforce play a role in creating an environment where dissenting opinion is acceptable. Having an environment where you can speak up if something seems wrong and having the attitude that it is your job to speak up when you see a problem are both components that allow people to raise any concerns to decision-making leaders. The decision makers need to make sure their leaders understand that there may be conflicting opinions and that they might never come to a complete agreement.

Related Resources:

NASA Virtual Project Management Challenge Series – Considering It All For Project Success: Dissenting Opinions at NASA

NASA APPEL Case Study on Dissenting Opinion – Launching New Horizons: The RP-1 Tank Decision

NASA ASK Magazine Article: 7120.5D Dissenting Opinion Process

Video: NASA Organizational Silence Panel Discussion

NASA Office of Safety and Mission Assurance Presentation on Dissenting Opinion

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