Quick Tips for Driving Productive Debate


Have you ever had the experience of making a great decision but not seeing it quickly acted upon? Not only have I experienced this at work but at home as well.

If you can relate to this situation or feel the need to constantly make quick decisions you should consider which is more important:

A) How quickly you can make a decision


B) How quickly others will act on your decision (aka speed to execution)

When we make quick decisions in relative isolation, others are left in the dark trying to understand the rationale behind the decision. The result being delays in execution.

As part of her extensive Multipliers leadership research, Liz Wiseman, a Top-10 Thinker, studied leaders who make decisions in a way that readies the organization to execute those decisions. They operate as Debate Makers, driving sound decisions through debate. They spark these debates by creating safety and demanding rigor.

Here are a few Debate Maker tips to consider next time you need to make a key decision:

-Create Safety. People do their best thinking when they feel safe to express their thoughts. Practices for creating safety include:

-Focus on facts. Avoid discussions based on opinions and emotions.

-Hold your views. Opening a debate with your own views will likely result in others holding back or simply agreeing with you. If you have a strong need to share your view, at least wait until you have heard from everyone else.

-Ignore hierarchy and job titles. This approach will establish that everyone (along with their ideas and views) are on equal ground.

-Have others argue the opposing position. This technique maintains focus on the question being debated as opposed to the people involved in the debate to reduce the us vs. them mentality.

-Demand Rigor. Debate Makers demand rigor to ensure that all angles are considered. Practices for demanding rigor include:

-Ask the hard questions. Drill deeper to get to route causes.

-Challenge assumptions. This type of disruption will push thinking beyond the all too common position of “This is how we have always done it here.”

-Explore other points of view. Ask participants how their position will impact other departments or citizens. Go extreme and have them assume the role of another group and think about their position.

-Equally debate both sides. Allow equal attention and questioning to both sides of the issue being debated.

It is natural that when our thoughts have been considered during the decision-making process, we are more likely to support and implement the decisions. This is true even when we may disagree with the resulting decision.

Engaging others in rigorous debate will also tap into the group’s collective intelligence and result in better-informed decisions. Instead of offering a fast answer on a critical decision, frame a debate question and ask others to weigh in with data and their point of view.

As Lyndon Johnson’s Vice President Hubert Humphrey once stated, “Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent and debate.”

What additional tips would you add for hammering out sound decisions through debate?


Jon Haverly is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Avatar photo Leah Anderson

Jon, I really love this idea of creating an inclusive environment around idea-sharing and can see the benefits in personal and professional situations. Thanks for sharing.