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Rules of Debate

Debate is another word for argument. I can imagine that like most people, your response to the word argument is negative. The word "argument" after all, has the connotation of a fight. This is true, a fight with words. However, it doesn't have to be ugly or nasty. It can actually be friendly.

In the workplace we often have different ways of looking at a problem, being responsible for different aspects of the project. Therefore we bring different kinds of solutions that look like they are opposing all others. This is absolutely false. They are only different pieces of the overall picture.

It is essential to get the best and most innovative results to include input from all team members. Otherwise, there is a great risk for having major gaps and flaws in the solution.

Here is a list of Rules that I put together to help you navigate disagreement or debate.

  • Agree that this debate is a way to flesh out ideas and concepts. Sharing opinions and ideas allows you to reach a better outcome.
  • Keep your emotions in check and focus on the facts. Watch your tone of voice and body language. Don't get stuck on proving you're right.
  • Don't take it personally. Everyone has a right to their point of view. Even though you may not agree with someone's opinion, that doesn't make it wrong.
  • Stay present and listen with respect. In order to have others listen to you, be prepared to listen to each person's point of view in an open and honest way.
  • State your point of view in a professional way. Own your opinion and provide support for it. Use sources and facts to support your point of view.
  • Use the right words and avoid blame. Don't exaggerate. To avoid arguments about exceptions, use rarely instead of never, often instead or always.
  • Remember that opinions aren't right or wrong. Don't state that someone's opinion is wrong.
  • Ask relevant questions to get to the deeper issue or identify the unspoken agenda. When people are upset, they don't always state their real problem or concern. Asking questions and listening makes an individual feel more accepted and allows them to reengage in the debate.
  • Give feedback in a positive way. Make comments that are to the point and based in facts. Share your viewpoint, avoiding critical language and sarcasm.
  • When you become aware of a flaw in your opinion, acknowledge it. This allows others to do the same, opening up the discussion.
  • Keep your perspective. This is just a debate. A way for you to share and discuss your viewpoint with others to achieve a positive outcome.

The use of guidelines to the process of disagreement or debate creates a safe environment which gets better results. It also helps to build trust between the group members participating in the discussion. Respecting everyone's opinions and suggestions allows a broader understanding of the problem and achieves better outcomes than without a structure.