The “Debate”

If you have any interest in presidential politics or are the kind of person who can’t look away from a trainwreck, then you probably tuned into the shouting match between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton last evening. It was billed as a debate but as we’ll see in a second, it was anything but. It did, however, teach us something about business.

Debates between presidential candidates have been going on for centuries. You’ve heard of the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. While those weren’t about a presidential election, they are fine examples of classic debating form. This is an excellent definition from the International Debate Education Association:

Debate embodies the ideals of reasoned argument, tolerance for divergent points of view and rigorous self-examination. Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.

Was that what we watched last night? I think not. But it’s something to keep in mind as you bring together people in business to debate ideas. How often are ideas discussed freely and openly in your place? When a boss is in the room, how free do the subordinates feel to oppose his or her point of view? Do facts surface that allow for the robust analysis which is the goal, or are people entrenched in the positions with closed minds?

Imagine if last night had been a moderated discussion, based in fact, of how to fix a problem our country is having. The goal isn’t to convince people to vote one way or the other but to surface the different, well-reasoned points of view about approaches to an issue and allow the voters to make their minds up on that basis. Nice dream, right?

Now think about trying to do that in a business setting. Maybe it’s the person or persons who need to make the decision that moderate. I suspect the decisions taken after such a debate will be sounder than those that follow free-form arguing, politicking the boss, or emotional exchanges. Maybe we should debate it?

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