Tip #757: Conflict as Debate or Debacle

The key to breakthrough problem solving isn’t getting along well. It’s not getting along-well.” Shane Snow

According to Shane Snow in “How to Debate Ideas Productively at Work,” conflict and arguments can be very healthy for an organization. Diverse thinking and disagreements, though uncomfortable, often lead to innovation and breakthrough solutions. This is because cognitive diversity makes a group smarter when everyone is willing to share their expertise and opinions.

However, when conflict occurs, there is a right and a wrong way to debate an issue. He identifies three categories of debates: “The kind where the goal is to persuade people you’re right; the kind where the goal is to look better than your opponent; and the kind where the goal is to find better solutions together.”

Snow is an advocate of the third kind of debate and makes these suggestions to keep the argument productive and constructive:

Remember that we’re all on the same team. This is not about winning or losing.

  1. We are here as comrades in the spirit of inquiry, not as adversaries.
  2. We share the same goal: to find the best solution.

Keep it about facts, logic and the topic at hand. When people hold strong opinions, there is a tendency to resort to logical fallacies, question dodging, bad facts and outright deception.

  1. Bear in mind that the debate is not about who cares more, who is the loudest, who is the most powerful, or who is the most articulate.
  2. Distinguish between facts and interpretations (stories people have about the facts).

Don’t make it personal. Depersonalize arguments so that people don’t feel that their ideas or identities are under attack.

  1. Stay away from questions that cast judgment on people, rather than on their ideas. Use “what” questions such as “What makes you feel that way?”
  2. Assume that everyone’s intentions are good.

Be intellectually humble. Be willing to respect every viewpoint and change your mind when necessary.

  1. Don’t take things personally.
  2. Admit when you realize that you’re wrong.

For Snow’s other rules and recommendations for productive debates, see https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-to-debate-ideas-productively-at-work?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=dailyalert_not_activesubs&referral=00563&deliveryName=DM24717

May your learning be sweet.


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