inquiryLast week, I talked about holding back when you really don’t have much to say. This week, I am thinking about our human tendency to move into hot and heavy “debate” on an issue, especially when we have deep expertise or a critical stake in the outcome.

I’ve been working with teams recently, very effective teams, that are striving to deepen the quality of team collaboration. Here’s what happens (again, it’s very human).

  1. One person states a proposal or point-of-view.
  2. Those of us who get easily triggered or have a strong opposing view jump into the conversation with our opinion. The higher the stakes on the decision or matter, the more likely the conversation becomes a laying on of differing opinions.
  3. Person one defends his or her viewpoint.
  4. Either more team members join in, or the team leader steps in to smooth over the “conflict.”

It’s so easy to listen and have a fast, immediate reaction, basically communicating “you’re right!” or “you’re wrong!”

Three Questions to Support Healthy Debate

The key is to have a team agreement that you will strive to inquire into each others’ thinking before presenting a strong opposing view. When practiced, the value is not only a better, more informed decision; it also helps team members understand each other’s thinking and experience on key topics. So try refraining from the jump, and ask:

  1. What do you mean when you say…?
  2. How has your past experience shaped your view on…?
  3. What outcome (i.e. result or end-state) are you most interested in achieving or avoiding?

Even in the heat of the debate, someone can insert one of these questions to take the dialogue to an inquiry into the issue. Debate without inquiry can leave a lot of value on the team table.