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31 January 2023

How to Debate Productively at Work

Jairek Robbins

As a business owner or manager, you are in charge of employees or team members with different
personalities, different backgrounds, different experiences and different communication styles or
viewpoints. In such a setting, it is easy for opinions to differ strongly, and disagreements can

In order to tap each person’s views for the benefit of the organization, it is important to
create conditions that permit productive debates to take place at the workplace.

After all, two or more heads are usually better than one! Below are some principles that you should enforce in
order to have productive debates at work with a view to encouraging innovation and creative

Keep The Team At The Center


Everyone should know that they are on the same team, and that none is an adversary of the other.

If everyone remains focused on what is good for the team, the debate will move along the
direction of seeking the best possible outcome for the company, rather than seeking to establish a
winner and a loser.

Also, keeping team-focused allows each person to make their contribution so that the best
solution to the existing problem can be found. Everyone is equal in the team, and there is little
room for some people to expect that their views will carry more weight simply because of the
position they hold in the company or how often they have been right in the past.

As a business owner or manager, it is your duty to ensure that the work environment encourages
mutual respect among employees so that meetings naturally exhibit this element of oneness and
focus on organizational goals.

Stay Focused On Logic And Facts


Productive debates are those focused on logic and facts. It is therefore important to clearly
distinguish between the facts pertaining to any matter, and the interpretations (or stories) that
people derive from those facts.

For example, when sales are low, that is a fact if company statistics make that a foregone
conclusion. However, the interpretation of those facts can vary from one person to another, and
that is where the debate can veer from a productive path to one that isn’t helpful, such as when
people begin assigning blame and the targeted individuals vehemently defend themselves. No
one wins when the facts and logic are set aside.

It is in your best interest as a business owner or manager to ensure that debates center on logic
and facts, then solutions and new approaches can be considered based on those facts.

Depersonalize The Debate


You can also debate productively at work by making sure that the debates are depersonalized.
Don’t let yourself or other members present to take things personal and get emotional.
For example, name calling should be an absolute no-no, as should finger pointing. If anyone
feels they are being personally attacked, they should respectfully point that out, and the meeting
should be redirected away from the personalization it was degenerating into.

Ego is one of the biggest challenges here. Don’t be too attached to your viewpoint to the
exclusion of all else. Don’t belittle others whose ideas seem less strong in comparison to yours.
And don’t argue for the sake of winning. As we mentioned earlier, the team or organization
should be paramount, and getting personal doesn’t do the company goals any good because it
breeds resentment, stifles productive engagement and kills innovation.

Ensure that everyone gives others the benefit of the doubt, rather than seeking for reasons to feel
slighted by the contributions or remarks made during the meeting. There is always another way
to see or interpret something, so don’t let your default interpretation be that you have been

When a workplace debate is depersonalized and focused on logic, the topic and the facts, any
issues that arise will always be vigorously discussed without fear of reprisal or any thinking that
people’s views don’t matter to their leaders.

Be Open-Minded And Receptive To New Ideas


It is also important to nurture a workplace environment in which people are intellectually
humble. Being intellectually humble means that one is always curious to learn new things, and
they are also willing to change their mind if the facts and the new information they get require
them to adjust their views on a given subject. Intellectual humility makes one aware that they
have intellectual limitations.

Don’t argue to the death in meetings. Genuinely listen to the viewpoints of those who don’t
agree with you and objectively assess the evidence they present for holding a contrary view or

If they make a compelling case, acknowledge the strength of their argument and adopt what they
have brought to the table. You don’t lose anything by changing your mind after learning new
facts and information. Your previous position or perspective was based on the information you
had at the time, and there is nothing wrong with changing your view in light of the additional
information that has now been availed.

Being intellectually humble means acknowledging that no one knows it all and everyone can
learn something from those around them. Debating productively results when everyone is willing
to listen to and objectively analyze what others have to say, so that the best solutions or ideas
that move the company forward are selected and refined.

One should also be humble enough to admit when they are wrong so that the way is cleared for a
better alternative to be adopted and implemented. You don’t lose anything by accepting that
another person has a better way to approach an issue.

Wrapping It Up…


It isn’t healthy to discourage vigorous debate at the workplace. Remember, you have a team of
professionals who are competent in diverse disciplines (accounting, IT, marketing and sales,
production, and so on) and it is hard for that diverse team to always see things in exactly the
same way.

By encouraging productive debates to take place following the principles laid out
above, you pave the way for all those experts to fine-tune solutions to problems and come up
with a superior alternative. Let the productive debates begin!

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