If debates are raging in your business or organization, you are wasting time and money. You’re also destroying the goodwill needed to make great decisions and realize outstanding results.
Western culture has mistakenly elevated debating to a high-art form. We have debate clubs, debating societies, and even presidential debates to help select among candidates. It seems that debating is like motherhood and apple pie for most Americans. But debate is a dead-end for getting things done.
Staking out positions and squaring off in verbal duels have high costs:
- Debate Polarizes Positions – Rather than having everyone search for the best option together, debate forces each side to advocate its own case. It’s like ancient gladiator battles – the emphasis is on making points and winning, rather than on finding the best solution. As debates flare, ego stakes rise. Who is right? Who is wrong? Whose career will benefit? Whose will suffer? Meanwhile, problems fester without the benefit of the best thinking that comes when people work together.
- Debate Hides, Rather Than Discloses, Important Information – Were you ever part of a high school debate team? I remember preparing for my high school debates by filling index cards with the key points supporting my position. I anticipated opposing points of view and had facts, figures, and expert opinions to rebut them. The game was to make the best case for my position and hope that the other person didn’t score on my areas of vulnerability. In fact, I often knew the weaknesses of my position better than my opponent. But it wasn’t my role to disclose all of the facts. My role was to win. The same is true in many organizations. It’s not that people can’t see the bigger picture. Rather, it’s that the process people use to decide issues doesn’t encourage it. Advocates know the dark underside of their positions, but because they fear losing, they don’t disclose all that they know to help find superior solutions.
- Debate Means Even The Winners Lose – With the passage of time and some perspective, it’s clear that most gladiator-style victories are short-lived. The losers in corporate power struggles or public elections regroup and continue their battles to regain “face.” The victories are fragile because they lack commitment to shared success. Meanwhile, organizations and communities suffer from sub-optimal decisions or decision gridlock.
Debating is a good game but a bad model for sorting out issues with other people. In businesses as well as communities, the highest purpose isn’t to see who wins but to build the best results together. We need to separate egos from issues in order to get great results. It’s time to recognize debate for the fear-driven dynamic that it is, and adopt a better process to resolve tough issues. It’s time to say no to debate.
Note: This article is adapted from How Great Decisions Get Made.