We grew up debating. Our parents were both lawyers, our dad debated for Britain and it was only at about age 13 that I realised it wasn’t normal for dinner time to involve heated discussion. Debate can be an incredibly healthy, useful tool for moving any organisation forward, but I often see people shy away from it.
I think this is because we’re taught, especially in the UK, to be polite and not make difficulties. I also think it’s because the art of debate in the public space has been completely undermined by soundbite-based political debates, shouty interviews on TV and trolls screaming at activists and others on twitter. We’re surrounded by toxic, unhealthy disagreement and we’ve therefore forgotten that disagreement doesn’t have to be that way. There’s also a strange shame around changing our minds (it’s seen as weak or fickle), and therefore we can feel uncomfortable being confronted or challenged. Part of my job as a facilitator is to normalise and encourage shifts in opinion through heated, structured discussions.
Debate and disagreement, when done in a constructive, controlled way, can be fun, rewarding and are the best ways to reach good ideas quickly.
Indeed, healthy debate is almost always vital for making workshops work. An idea or strategy that hasn’t been prodded, pushed and put under pressure is very unlikely to be your team’s best thinking.
A huge part of the way we facilitate workshops at Well & Truly is to create a space where voices are equal and heated debate can happen in a contained, productive way. One of the key things a good moderator has to do is knowing when to fan the flames and when to calm things down.
Here are the three most important things we do:
We encourage provocative, challenging questions that move ideas forwards rather than just blocking them. If someone shoots down an idea without building on it or giving a clear reason why, we will call them out.
We use abstraction or gamification to make the debate feel like an exercise (which it is, really) rather than a personal discussion, which allows participants to think more clearly and objectively and get involved without fear of repercussion. We can also use this technique to force a group to come to a decision, for example by getting them to physically move to a space that represents a particular idea. You can verbally hedge your bets but you can’t physically be in two places!
We never create situations in which team members end up shouting at each other, but just as bad is a group of people sitting around rolling their eyes rather than challenging the thinking. Debate and disagreement, when done in a constructive, controlled way, can be fun, rewarding and are the best ways to reach good ideas quickly.
If you feel like your team could use a little help discovering the art of healthy debate in your next workshop or team away day, give us a call on 07832 692 412.