Christian Business Wisdom Seekers

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Invite Disagreement and Debate

“Judaism has the idea of sacred argument. We best discern God’s truth when we discuss it from different perspectives.


This idea can make some uncomfortable. Shouldn’t God’s truth be clear and easy to discern?


Well, life is complicated, as is leadership. The answers aren’t always clear. We need to invite different voices into our conversation. Moses does so from the very beginning. He consults with the elders. He consults with Aaron. He even seeks advice from his father-in-law.


Moses is a leader who knows his own limitations. He knows he grows in wisdom as he learns from others. That is why he is called the “most humble man on earth.”


                                                                                                                                Rabbi Evan Moffic

Sabina Nawaz writes in the Harvard Business Review, “How you interact as a team impacts how you think about your business. If your team’s interactions are becoming predictable or languishing in a flat line, it might be time to stir things up.”

I also love what Roz Usheroff founder of The Usheroff Institute, “I was reminded of the fact that for many, owning a different perspective often means going against the flow or shunning the status quo.  The prospect of exposing oneself in such a manner is both daunting and quite frankly unsettling. Appearing to be against the beliefs of senior leadership can cause us to refrain from expressing our own perspectives even though we may see things that need to be brought out in the open.  But today, to survive and thrive, you must be able to demonstrate why you’re essential to the business, rather than just relevant.”

Why would you foster disagreement and debate?

According to Julia Dhar, Sana Rafiq, and Kateryna Guziak, “A survey of 6,000 tech employees found that 17.5% of them do not speak up at all to their managers. Situations like this are particularly unfortunate because the team and corporate performance are contingent upon a culture where employees feel free to communicate their ideas and opinions as they work together and solve problems.”  This is a recipe for basing decisions on incomplete information which could lead to poor performance at best and disaster at worst.

When you have a close-minded organization, that’s what you will get, closed-minded results – poor. Oftentimes it flattens employee engagement, negatively affects morale, and ultimately destroys employee retention. Especially for forward-thinking, progressive, and creative employees. 

Although conflict is often perceived as negative, a healthy amount of workplace conflict can be valuable to an organization’s growth. Healthy conflict allows for more creativity, stronger ideas, and more engaged employees. Debates, competition, and industry disruption are all examples of healthy conflict that can lead to fresh perspectives and growth for a business. 


How do you foster healthy disagreement?

It starts with being part of your culture. Encourage honesty, transparency, and most importantly room for employees to make mistakes and not be punished for them.

When you are looking to change the culture to a more inclusive one it is important to explain to your team what the overall purpose is and what you are trying to achieve. In order to not hurt people’s feelings, specifically state that you are not pointing fingers or judging anyone, you are just moving forward in a more holistic way. Change is a difficult animal to tame.

Start by outlining and defining product goals – requirements gathering, key design decisions, what constitutes a finished product, training preparation, and ongoing support – so that the business understands what the work entails. Leaders can then establish points where bringing key business stakeholders into the process will enable the most productive outcomes. From there it is imperative to get buy-in.

From there describe what things happened and did not happen in the previous meeting that you would like to see more of. Clarity is essential for everyone to know what it is that you are after. If it is solutions you are looking for, tell them that we are not looking for explanations. How do we move on from here?

Oftentimes people are reluctant to talk or are shy. When you notice someone is not saying anything in your meetings, invite their opinion directly. “Hey, Sally, of the two options which do you think is better?” Why?” Everyone needs a voice.

But as Morten Hansen writes in the Harvard Business Review; “When teams have a good fight during meetings, team members debate the issues, consider alternatives, challenge one another, listen to minority views, and scrutinize assumptions. Every participant can speak up without fear of retribution. However, many people shy away from such conflict, conflating disagreement and debate with personal attacks. In reality, this sort of friction produces the best decisions.”


Ways to get a good debate in a meeting?

  1. The easiest and fastest way is to start by asking open-ended thought-provoking questions.


  1. An interesting stance is to take the contrarian viewpoint and play devil’s advocate.


  1. From Sandi Mitchell, Apex Catalyst Group, we get, Adopt The ‘Yes, And’ Format. Improv brought us the "yes, and" format. When someone starts something, you can't disagree or dismiss it. You must instead say, "yes, and..." Then you can pivot, or you can build on what they say. It's OK to disagree, respectfully. Be open (listen to their ideas). Be honest (share what you're thinking). Be curious (assume they are allies and not adversaries). "Yes, and" yourselves into innovation!


  1. A very important distinction comes from Debbie Ince, Executive Finders, Inc; Strive For Commitment, Not Consensus It’s important to set standards in advance for how to move forward post-disagreement. For instance, in a committee setting or group discussion, have a joint shared value system that consensus is not mandatory, but the commitment to move forward collectively as a team is. Disagreements can foster conflict and innovation at the same time, so moving forward collectively as a unit is vital.


  1. It is crucial to listen to all the points of view and from there once you have listened carefully and clarified it in your own mind, you summarize it for all. At this point the debate phase takes place. It is essential that you build a culture of healthy debate.


  1. Focus your group to come up with the best solution, not win the debate. The easiest way is to keep the debate attentive to the facts and sound logic.

Ways to respond to people you disagree with.

  1. Always start with being the best listener in the room and focus on the intent of the opinion, not the speaker and be respectful.


  1. Before you explain what, you are against, share the common ground you enjoy and build from there.


  1. At all costs, avoid the word “but”.


  1. Try to remember that they are not trying to beat you and that you are not trying to win. This is a discussion to come up with the best resolution to a challenge the organization is facing.


  1. This brings me to keep to the point, not the personality. It's not you against me, but us against the world.


  1. Try to couch your opinions in “I” statements.

Jeff Whittle, founder of Whittle & Partners sums up the final steps of the process best when he wrote, “Clients of mine will know that I feel very strongly about aiming to solve issues, not just talk about them.

One of the reasons I tell clients is that efficiency comes from acting, not talking. The more time you spend talking about an idea, the less actual work you are getting done.

The reason I don’t always mention it is that discussing the idea of death is a surefire way to create unhealthy conflict. Problems without solutions are a source of incredible stress. Stress creates frustration and brings out our instincts. And instincts get in the way of good, healthy conflict.

Keep in mind when discussing an issue that you should always be focused on solving it, not rehashing the same old arguments again and again. Solving creates progress. Rehashing just causes people to dig in deeper.”

In conclusion, it is essential to consider the culture of your team when you are trying to implement inclusive policies. Demonstrate honesty and transparency and encourage employees to take risks and make mistakes, as that is intrinsic to growing and learning. You must be clear when setting applicable expectations and allowing room for discussion. This facilitates success by presenting a united front with all participants on the same page in understanding their goals. Change is something to embrace yet can be a difficult challenge. Efficiency begins with outlining objectives, such as requirements gathering, personnel training, and troubleshooting. Leaders should set benchmarks by which success can be measured. To start this journey towards an inclusive culture, please give me a call to chat more about these critical steps forward. By making sure each voice is heard and encouraging growth within the organization, we’ll be one step closer to building a community we can all thrive together.

Chuck Groot is an author, speaker, and teacher. His love of God has spanned over 6 decades and he finds the more he studies the Bible, the less he knows, the more he succeeds the more dependant on God he becomes, and that there is nothing outside of loving God our Father and being loved in return.


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