Debate or dialogue

I Win!!!!


I’ve been there; the victorious debating team bludgeoning the opposition to death.

Then I stopped. What was the point in being able to win an argument from either side?

Of course there are some obvious occupations in which this comes in handy: lawyers, politicians, debt collectors and parents come to mind!

Many people continue to get better at this sort of verbal warfare long after college, and many of those become leaders and senior managers because they can win any argument, beat anybody down and defend the indefensible.

I wish I was joking. I’m not. And I don’t mean to sound bitter, I’ve been guilty myself (some might say even now).

I say this, because I feel strongly, debating is the wrong process to achieve a constructive way forward.

It’s win – lose, defend your position (right or wrong), destroy the opposition (Though re-living it, what fun that was as a teenager!).

Listen next time you reason someone into oblivion. What did it achieve? How did it help or build anything?

What can we do instead?

My pet concept is a school debating programme called ‘The constructive dialogue’. Where each party presents their case, then each side has to find ways to agree with the other side . Instead of Retort it’s Re-think. This would really get right brains flying.

In the work setting:

Relax you don’t need to be right. In fact there are many benefits in not winning.

Listen without preparing an answer. You’ll seem wiser and the other person will notice you have listened.

Agree. It doesn’t hurt. This doesn’t mean you need to provide the solution.

The magic paradox. A legal journal recently proposed this – rephrase what you have just been told or seen expressed and close it with a statement where they agree with you – like: “I expect you feel that the company hasn’t paid enough attention to its community, is that right?” What is ‘magic’ is the shift in demeanour of those with the issue, the instant they hear you understand them and that they agree with what you have said. (Which doesn’t mean you agree with them).

Close your mouth (last resort).

Read any publication by Peter Senge

What suggestions do you have?

How prevalent is the ‘debating syndrome’ in your work environment?

Can you begin to deactivate it?

3 Replies to “Debate or dialogue”

  1. Great post Richard. Much of the debate I see in organizations is debate ala politics. Positional power stuff and not really helpful in delivering a concept to a customer.

    1. Thanks Jim, yes it’s a frustrating thing to observe, and I haven’t noticed any improvement over the years. Richard

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