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Blog > The 5 Rules of Engagement for Healthy Debate

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The 5 Rules of Engagement for Healthy Debate

A culture of debate can be an excellent thing for your firm, driving new ideas and innovations. Implement these five rules of engagement for healthy debate within your team.
The 5 Rules of Engagement for Healthy Debate - Above high angle view of four stylish elegant classy chic confident serious professional business sharks sitting at table desk discussing start-up strategy workstation workplace

You’ve likely experienced conflict in the workplace before. While some professionals may shy away from conflict, it’s not always a bad thing. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, cognitive diversity in a group makes for smarter group decisions and, in many cases, differing opinions and disagreements can lead to more progress and better solutions.  

While a culture of debate can be a great thing for a firm, it’s important to establish rules of engagement to ensure that team members don’t cross certain boundaries. Here are five rules of engagement for healthy debate.  

  1. Stay on the Same Team

It’s important to stay on the same team when debating anything at work, regardless of the subject of the debate. To keep everyone on the same team, leadership should ensure that team members are all working toward the same goal. If everyone on a team isn’t working toward the same goal…well, then that is a bigger problem. 

Harvard Business Review recommends that whenever members of a team enter into a debate, they should be reminded of their shared goal, that all viewpoints that support the team’s achievement of the shared goal are welcome, and that there are no winners or losers in pursuing that goal. So long as the goal is accomplished, everyone wins.

  1. Leave Emotions Out of It

Debate within a firm should focus on the end goal, not anyone’s personal emotions. It’s important to watch for any signs that team members are becoming too emotional during a debate. These signs could be as simple as team members not sticking to facts or logic surrounding the issue up for debate or focusing on feelings or thoughts alone. Other team members might use sneakier emotional tactics to control a debate, such as gaslighting others or demonstrating to the group that they “care more” about a cause.  

  1. Stay Humble 

Along this line of emotional intensity, team members who don’t tie their self-worth or value to the debate find it easier to avoid emotional involvement with the topic at hand. As long as everyone believes that they’re on the same team, if the team achieves a goal together, everyone wins on an individual level as well. In every organization, debate and decisions should be separate from the egos of team members.  

Leaders should ensure that colleagues respect one another’s opinions in a debate, that they aren’t giving certain colleagues favor based on the use of rhetorical or emotional tactics, and that those who are “right” in a certain situation aren’t rewarded or treated differently for being right. 

  1. Don’t Let Things Drag On

Healthy debate within a firm should inspire team productivity and progress, which means that team members should not drag on a debate once they have resolved the issue at hand. This can be tricky, though, when team members’ egos are wrapped up in the debate. If team members aren’t willing to concede or “lose,” then they may prolong the debate indefinitely, bringing all of the firm’s progress to a grinding halt.  

Leadership should establish limits on the length of a debate. Eventually, when the team or leadership makes a decision, all team members must get behind that decision regardless of any one individual’s opinion.

  1. Remain Loyal, Whatever Happens

Once the final decision is made—no matter who makes it—it’s done. There should be no more questions asked and no more debating.  

It’s important to foster a strong sense of community and loyalty among team members so that everyone understands that decision-making belongs to the team as a whole. Everyone must get behind decisions and move forward on the project together. More importantly, the end result of the decision-making belongs to the team as well. If a team’s decision turns out to be a great one, they should celebrate together. If a team’s decision turns out to be a bad one, they must band together to recoup from their failure or loss without pointing fingers. 

The Bottom Line 

While a culture of debate can be a great thing for a firm, it’s important to establish rules of engagement to ensure that team members don’t cross certain boundaries. There’s no reason for the workplace to become emotionally charged, and there’s no point in a team debating exclusively for the sake of debate. Team members should debate with one another to determine what decisions are best for the firm as a whole.

Are you a leader who needs help fostering a healthy culture of debate at your firm? Arootah’s career coaching services help leaders perform at their peak and inspire change in a healthy, productive manner. Learn the correct strategies to guide your team and inspire growth as you become a top-tier decision-maker, crisis manager, and master delegator.

Learn more and schedule a call with one of our coaches today. Bring us your challenges and let’s talk solutions in a free, 30-minute introductory coaching call. 

Do you stick to these rules of engagement when debating with your team? What would you add? Let us know in the comments below!

Sources: 

https://hbr.org/2019/01/how-to-debate-ideas-productively-at-work?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=hbr&utm_source=LinkedIn&tpcc=orgsocial_edit 

https://www.fastcompany.com/90641334/15-tips-to-encourage-vigorous-but-respectful-workplace-debates 

https://www.bizjournals.com/bizjournals/news/2021/04/22/15-leaders-tips-for-encouraging-healthy-debate-in-the-workplace.html 

Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to be and should not be taken as professional medical, psychological, legal, investment, financial, accounting, or tax advice. Arootah does not warrant or guarantee the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or suitability of its content for a particular purpose. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read in our newsletter, blog or anywhere else on our website.

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