6 Ways To Constructively Debate With Coworkers

6 Ways To Constructively Debate With Coworkers

The reality of professional collaborations is that disagreements will inevitably pop up. That’s a given. With employees required to collaborate and deliver show stopping ideas, it’s expected that at some point these ideas will clash. After all, employees each have different personal and professional backgrounds, favoured practices and experiences. This is the beauty of a diverse workforce.

But what should you do if a disagreement starts to become heated? Next time you’re facing a sticky situation with a coworker, follow these steps to handle the debate gracefully, and potentially even find a solution that lets everybody win.

Listen more than you speak

Talking more does not secure you a win on the debate front. There’s no rule that whoever speaks longest, loudest or first wins. Quite the contrary, in fact: the more you talk, the more likely your coworker is going to reach a point of zoning out. Instead, practice the art of active listening. Your body language will quickly betray you if you are merely nodding along and mentally rehearsing what you’re going to say next.

Consider their motivations

Empathy is critical. Understanding your coworker’s motivations will help you avoid conflict and constructively weigh in on the conversation. Take the time to understand where they are coming from and highlight that you want to work together to come to a solution that will work for both of you. This will change the tone of the debate.

Reflect back to them what you believe they’re saying so that they feel heard and respected. Not only will a display of empathy take the heat out of the situation, it will significantly increase your ability to find a solution that gets to the heart of both motivations.

Be collaborative

Approach the disagreement under the assumption that both of you want what’s best for the team. You may disagree right now, but the end goal is a shared one, and your language should reflect that assumption. If you feel your frustration growing, ask action-oriented questions to get the conversation back on a productive path. Try “how can we get back on the right track?” or “how can we continue to learn from one another and deliver great results?” This will underline your collaborative approach, and by using questions you invite that spirit of collaboration from your interlocutor.

Embrace the disagreement

While anger isn’t a productive way to approach a conversation, avoiding conflict at all costs also has its price. You can listen to the other person’s point of view and respect their position without ceding your ground. Often, high-level disagreements, approached with mutual respect, are helpful to the team as a whole. Perhaps your coworker’s concern is valid; what are the essential elements of your position and what can be improved upon in order to honour that concern? In exploring the nuances of the conflict, you’re provided with an ideal way to really drill down into the core of your belief and decision making process. With care and courage, what will emerge from the conflict is a better honed, stronger direction.

Even if your position doesn’t waver, having to defend it internally is an excellent exercise. Should you meet with external criticisms later, you’ve already had experience in backing your position which can only serve your company well.

Frame the conversation

Framing is a powerful tool for shaping any narrative. Marriage counsellors will counsel a couple to make sure that their arguments are focused on the issue at hand and don’t become free-wheeling squabbles. Similar principles apply for workplace conflicts: it’s important to keep them focused. An effective way to make sure that happens is to frame and define the nature of the conflict in the first place. Try articulating your understanding of the two positions up front, characterising the essential issue as you do so. Done effectively, framing will shut out irrelevant concerns and keep the issues in sharp focus.

Pick your battles

Before you find yourself spending an hour trying to talk your coworker round to your side, stop and consider: Is this really worth your time? Sometimes, we can get so caught up in wanting to be right that we forget the bigger picture. If the conflict is theoretical, trivial or arises from something so subjective that there is no objective resolution, consider agreeing to disagree. And stay away from politics!

What do you think?

Have you found yourself in a difficult conversation with a coworker? How did you resolve it? Share your experience with us in the comments!

This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Forbes, Chron, Solinger Law, Diplo and Wall Street Journal.

Image credit: Bustle


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