Don’t Argue With Your Team, Argue FOR Your Viewpoint

The best teams argue within a framework of collaboration. They understand the value of bringing different points of view to solving a problem and the importance of arguing in a way that builds trust rather than undermines it.

Photo Credit: Redgum via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Redgum via Compfight cc

Here are ten steps to building a collaborative environment for productive arguments. 

  1. Don’t argue WITH each other, argue FOR the importance of factors that need to be considered before good strategic choices can be made.
  2. Keep building confidence and trust in each other until you are 100% certain that no one is going to get blindsided by a personal attack or angry retaliation.
  3. Role model the type of arguing you want to be the norm and encourage others to join in. This will make the process more transparent and collaborative.
  4. Fully air different points of view to make it easier for people to get behind the eventual strategic choices once their views have been heard.
  5. Be passionate about your own views rather than hypercritical of other people’s views.
  6. Avoid arguing just to play the devil’s advocate. Instead, make sure your team has people with diverse points of view.
  7. Learn from each other and say out loud what you have learned. Make your views reflect what you have learned from each other the next time you argue for the importance of a particular viewpoint.
  8. Always end by stating clearly what you have agreed and what you have NOT agreed and what each of you is going to do.
  9. Be clear from the outset if and when the final choices will be made by the boss or team leader and don’t let them duck that responsibility.
  10. See the humor in the situation and only take yourselves as seriously as the situation requires. 

If you are a manager or team leader, you will find it extremely valuable to have colleagues who you can count on to argue honestly for a key point of view.  They have to be able to trust you first.  Agree on the rules, give them explicit permission, practice in private and then in public, and build the trust you need.

Here’s a tip, if a lot of your sentences are starting with “You think… or You don’t … or You should…,” then watch out, you are probably not arguing FOR something, but instead arguing WITH someone.  Also, being passionate doesn’t require shouting or cutting other people off. When you argue for the importance of something, you are not competing to win, you are collaborating to learn before you make strategic choices.

Note: In the picture, these two team members are having an argument, but if you look closely you can see they are both eating from the same chocolate ice cream cone with their own spoons. Shared ice cream with separate spoons might be a good way to set the stage for a collaborative argument.