What is a Healthy Debate?

One often hears the term “healthy debate” as a reference to two or more sides getting together to hash out an issue that could escalate into argumentative discourse if not dealt with upfront. Some might believe that a debate in business cannot be healthy at all since it pits people against each other. They’d rather have a “discussion.” Let’s take a look at why debating can be good for your business…if handled properly.

Debate in Business

First, let’s clarify that debating in business is different from the debates seen during political campaigns. The focus in the latter is winning at all costs. It really is about surviving as the candidate of choice.

The great John Wooden once said:

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

In business, a debate will involve strong, well-researched opinions on both sides of a decision that needs to be made. Each side presents its case and a solution is chosen. While some will feel they “won” and others might feel they “lost,” the goal of the decision-maker is to take valid points from both sides and create the solution that works best for all involved…notably, your clients!

Debate vs Discussion

Debating is not the same as having a discussion. A discussion is when people get together with a common issue that needs addressing and all parties have an open conversation about solving that issue. While some may come to the table with ideas on the subject, everyone is there to arrive at a decision based on the input from all.

In a debate, while the issue at hand may be the same, how it is worked out is different. There are “sides,” individuals or groups who have already determined what they believe to be the best course of action. They arrive to debate their points and convince others of their merits. Sounds like the basis of an argument, right? It should not be. What it really means is that people have put some significant thought into the subject already and have come to the table backed with their research, knowledge and experience to voice their input. I like that! And so should you. It signifies that people have cared enough about the subject to put some strong thinking into it and are prepared to communicate their position strongly.

Tips for a Healthy Debate

However, as their leader, you need to set the playing field of a debate so that it doesn’t escalate to all out war. Below I list 5 tips for debating that should be shared with your team the next time you see teams digging in for a fight:

#1 Have an Agenda

Make sure you have scoped out where the debate should start and where it should end. What is the end result needed from the debate? Usually, it is a decision on how to proceed. Too often teams that debate go off on excessive tangents that cloud their larger issue. Stay vigilant to the larger issue, keep track of time. Make sure a decision is reached at the end.

#2 Ask Questions to Forward the Debate

Rather than shutting an idea down too soon in order to be right, ask questions of the team. This will foster advanced discussions of the point at hand. Asking smart questions credentials you as a forward thinker and establishes you as someone who desires a clear outcome.

#3 Offer Ideas/Recommendations, Don’t Insist on Them

Too often executives insist on their ideas being accepted. Be open to hearing what the other side is saying. Yes, offer your recommendation so that it can be discussed. But then see how it sits with the others and whether it opens up new ideas. Discussion drives acceptance. Colleagues need to vet an idea in order to wrap their arms around it and accept it.

#4 Summarize, Summarize, Summarize!

The more you summarize a point the more you move the debate forward while acknowledging your teammate. Make sure they know you understood their recommendation, even if you are not convinced it is the right way to go.

#5 Present the Next Step in the Process

Never let the debate get away from you. Rather, present the next step that the team needs to take based on your recommendation. They need to “see your math,” meaning that they need to know how you came to your recommendation and why you are suggesting the next step. Even if your idea of the next step is inaccurate, by presenting it the entire team will create the correct one.

Go ahead…debate! But make sure, in the end, both sides feel like they were heard and understood. And, that a strong decision was the result, even if both sides had to give in a little. That’s a healthy debate!

Have you ever lost control of a debate? How did you get it back? Share your experience with a comment. Thanks! -sg



Five Steps for Improved Client Communication

When most people think about client communication, they picture a presentation with slides, charts, bullet points, etc. However, most people I consult with rarely given a “formal” presentation. Rather, they are called upon to discuss an issue with a client or internal team. But that shouldn’t mean the communication is less important! It still takes preparation and attention to detail.

Whether you are delivering an internal update or an external new business presentation, these five steps will make your communications succeed:

Start with Your Audience’s Objectives

Too often people begin a presentation with background/history versus what their audience desires. Better to state at the start, “As you’ve said, your primary objective is to…”

Two of the most powerful words in persuading are the words ”you said.” It shows you’ve heard your client and realize the importance of their objective. It even helps when a client objects to your recommendation. Answering them with, “I understand your objection but, you said that ___ was important to you. Has something changed?” Now you’re going to get to the bottom of their objection and have new intel to make a revised recommendation!

Pinpoint the Obstacles

Be clear about the obstacles your clients have faced. State what’s prevented them from achieving their objective. This let’s them know you understand their situation and creates urgency to your recommendations. From there, you can collectively arrive at solutions. But you have to know the problem you are solving first, right?

Present an Agenda

Nothing controls a communication more than a clearly distilled agenda. It shows your homework has been done and your ready to edify people of your diligence. It also let’s you know whether you’ve given yourself enough time to achieve your meeting objective. So often, my clients say they run out of time when presenting their recommendations. I’ve found that poor time management begins when you don’t have an agreed upon agenda. Use one to organize your thoughts and ensure that you have plenty of time to accomplish what you set out to do.

Say “What this means for you…”

Once you’ve completed a point in your agenda, you’ve got to link it to your client’s world using this phrase. They may or may not do it on their own. Take the guess work out of it! Make sure that they can see that what you are recommending solves an issue for them. Make their life easier!

Present a Critical Path Forward

Ever leave a meeting not knowing whether you accomplished your goal or what the next steps are? It’s because you didn’t declare the next steps and get agreement on them from your audience. Always present a critical path forward. It says to your client, “here is the next step I’m putting forth for you to accept.” They may not accept it or, may suggest alternatives. But at least you will know where things stand.

Enjoy succeeding with these points and let me know how they’ve helped in the comments below.  Thank you!