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



Great Leaders Listen…But to Who?

I often coach new leaders to listen as though their life depends on it. But to who? Not everyone can provide valuable input, right? Perhaps not but, there are some key groups to whom you should pay special attention. Listening comes in many forms. You’ve got to listen to your Board, your direct reports AND their direct reports and a host of other groups, collectively they will make or break your leadership.

Your Board

When I say listen to your Board, I mean understanding their goals for your organization and what is important to them. What is their legacy going to be? How do you fit into that? Communicating that you understand and respect this affirms a Board member and you get to shape their involvement in the organization, as they feel a nice degree of authorship from your alignment with them.

Your Direct Reports

Naturally listening to your direct reports is essential. You will come to understand their POV and how they see shaping your organization from their position. This gives you a great window into how to contribute to their growth and development. Check in with your directs regularly and lead with questions that give them an opportunity to let you know how things are. You’ll learn a lot and not just their input/insight but, how much they are paying attention “out there.” Those who are truly aligned with the collective goals will have much to say versus those who are “calling it in.”

THEIR Direct Reports

How often to you have meaningful discussion with those in the trenches? As you skip down to your direct’s staff you gain an important perspective. You get a window into how your executive team is leading and contributing to their respective teams. This is essential work. It presents you as an inclusive leader versus an arms-length leader. It also lets their superiors know that YOU value their directs’ input so, they better value it too!

People know when you are removed from them and when you are connected to them. Make sure its the latter.

Mastering alignment with each group drives your acceptance on a personal level, professional level and coach level.

New Leaders…Stay Insecure For a While

The opportunity has arrived! You’ve been anointed as the heir apparent. Congratulations…you are now the boss. You can start telling everyone what to do.
NO! Keep your humility, drop the swagger… I said drop it! Keep a clear head as you proceed.

Lead First…Delegate Later

Sorry to be so immovable on this point BUT, in my experience coaching new leaders, far too many executives move from being in the weeds to only touching them. Too often the first skill they hone is delegation when they should be leading by example. People know when you haven’t done the required homework for important corporate events/moves.  You can’t fool them!

Collaboration Builds Their Confidence in You

The reason I recommend remaining insecure a bit longer is that it forces you to collaborate with everyone and gather feedback in whatever form or tone it takes. This illustrates your humility and forbearance with people. It says their voice is important to you. It affirms people. And in turn, they gain confidence in your abilities.

Avoid Forcing Change

As you start your new leadership position, act as though everyone around you will remain as they are both in character and in their ability to guide your leadership actions. By operating this way, you can adapt your style to fit how they work best and persuade people from the character they have presented, not the one you want them to have. Eventually, you can affect the change you want but first, you have to see things from their perspective. They’ll make note of that effort and are more likely to accept your future plans.

Are you new to your leadership role? Let me know what your biggest challenge is below in the comments. Thanks!

Why Patience Is Not a Virture…It’s Required

I observe between 60 to 100 executives per year as they hone their consulting/advising skills. I am always amazed and impressed with the ones who have the innate ability to quiet themselves so that their audience has time to process and respond. They resist the temptation to interrupt with more information.

I need to see more of this. Read more

Am I Right?…Am I Right? – The Good & Bad About Checking In

When communicating an idea or recommendation, it is essential to check in. However, it’s “how” you do it that makes all the difference. Can you ask “Am I right?” No. That’s not appropriate…well…pretty much ever!

You can, though, when you are speaking with a direct report, client or colleague, ask relational check-in questions.

Asking Relational Questions

Relational questions provide you with an opportunity to see if your recommendation is resonating with your target audience. It also provides a stopping point during which your client or direct report can provide input, which gives you insight into where their head is during the conversation.

Examples of some relational questions are:

Do you see how this idea can help you this year?

From what we’ve just covered how do you see this fitting in with your overall strategy?

Is this idea on strategy?

The Importance of Checking In

Checking in is very important. It accomplished two goals. One, it illustrates you’re concerned about your client’s understanding and accepting of your idea early on in the communication. Two, it shows you have the confidence to ask for their alignment at the start of your communication.

Too often in meetings, I have observed people checking in during the last five minutes of a presentation versus at the beginning, middle and then the end. 

You can’t fix a misunderstanding during the eleventh hour of your presentation You can when you uncover it at the start.

Be sure at the start of your presentation to ask for agreement that you have captured the primary goal of your client along with their stated challenges before you present your idea.