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?

Doing the Right thing


When the left brain meets the right brain – especially when it is someone else’s right brain, it can be a meeting of difficult progress.

I have a right brain bias. I enjoy the company of both and fortunately did a left brain/right brain based degree.

Logic is great for a lot of things, but I believe the spirit of the organisation is a right brain thing. And if you’re out of spirit you are out of business.

For those not familiar –

[pullquote]Right brain: Random, Intuitive, Holistic, Synthesizing, Subjective, Looks at wholes

Left brain: Logical, Sequential, Rational, Analytical, Objective, Looks at parts[/pullquote]

The right brain may be described as clockwise, it takes us forward, whilst most of the left brain functions take us back over facts, data, history etc. and is described as counter-clockwise.

To strong left brainers, right brainers can seem somewhat unhinged!

Many right brainers are now amongst the big movers and shakers out there. Richard Branson, (the late) Anita Roddick, Steve Jobs, Seth Godin and author and trained architect Arundhati Roy amongst them. Women are more predisposed to right brain (some would say that’s why they are – right!).

I agree with those commentators that predict right brain as the way of the future.

If you are not starting to give your right brain a work-out then watch out.

• Facts won’t keep pace with change. Paralysis by analysis will happen at light speed relative to the past.

• Movements will not be logical and sometimes those that are meant to be logical are destructive (the financial crisis was fuelled by a process built on logic).

• An increasingly selective consumer will not be wowed by a selection of 1 or a ‘me too’. Henry Ford’s Model T wouldn’t see the light of day. Creativity and innovation will rule.

Get amongst it. Learn how to engage right brain.

Start here and follow the links (I recommend Gorilla Blindness) and do this test.

Think about how you build yours and others ability and how you let those with natural right brain inclinations shine in your organisation.

Do the Right thing.

Our Team

Talking Staffs
An observant colleague pointed out you don’t have great staff – you have great people (Thanks Rob).

I agree, staff is a hugely impersonal term, and for someone so important to your company why would you use such an impersonal term of such varied meaning?

I prefer to talk of Our Team, but this can sound a bit corny and insincere, and besides I’m far from being politically correct. But staff (or staffs as Microsoft Word tells you) is impersonal, though difficult to work around.

This points me to the dilemma of ownership. Who did what?

Once, when asked to outline value I had added in a particular role I said “Well depending on your view I added all the value or none of it, which would you like?”

My point was that as leaders you are both entrusted with steering the ship and watching it from shore.

If you do your job well amazing things are achieved that wouldn’t be achieved without you, without you! (yes that is what I meant to say)

As a leader you aspire to everyone being their own leader within the boundaries set by you, within the code of conduct and collaboration that is the company culture (also set by you).

I am a fan of Carver’s Policy Governance Model® in which the board determines the ends (outcomes) and only limits the means (the way in which it is done) by exclusion (things falling outside prudence or ethical guides).

I think this is also a great model for everyone in a company to operate by – ‘Tell me what you want and what I can’t do to get there – I’ll let you know if I need further assistance.” Self-managing teams on steroids.

Which brings me back to the comment about staff, er.. people.

Treat people with respect and trust – it will be returned.

Treat them just as staff and you might just get sticks.