Healthy Debate Through Curiosity

Blog 2023-08-29 photo

These extremely warm summer days have me thinking about how debates can heat up suddenly, especially at work. When we sense ‘danger’ around a topic, we might tend to avoid that hot topic, tiptoe gingerly when discussing it, or dive headfirst to win it. None of these responses is healthy, though. 

So, what’s the best way to have healthy debate that creates growth…for you, your team/inner circle, your organization, your worldview? I’ll refrain from outlining the basic tactics of debate, assuming you can learn from debate experts on the Internet or perhaps you already have some from personal experience (e.g., your school “debate team”). 

Instead, I’m focusing on one thing that goes a long way in preparing for, and engaging in, healthy debate: curiosity. 

We’ve written various blogs about curiosity and shared this point of view: Genuine curiosity does NOT “kill the cat” – in fact, it’s nutrition for a feline: The ‘cat’ not only remains alive, but it also thrives. We’ve seen this numerous times with managers and senior executive clients who report that genuine curiosity in a debate creates deeper insights into differences and results in a faster alignment, which both support decision-making. 

Curiosity requires a certain mindset and set of behaviors rooted in appreciation. Here are a few examples: 

  • CURIOSITY MINDSET: Know that you don’t have all the answers. Remind yourself of the wise adage, “Who knows what is good and what is bad?” And consider that sometimes learning from differences trumps being right. 
  • CURIOSITY BEHAVIORS: Ask people questions such as, “What’s important about that to you?” And really listen to their answer. Then, find something you can appreciate about the person’s (presumably opposing) answer and say, “What I like about that is <fill in the blank>.” And when things get really heated, consider asking, “What’s at risk here?” This can help grow your understanding of their worldview. 

When we express genuine curiosity in support of healthy debate, we learn from differences and pave the way for progress. 

This Week: Think about a situation in your work or life that seems prone to discord or maybe it’s already in full debate mode. What are you truly interested in knowing about the topic, other people’s viewpoints, etc.? If nothing, perhaps you are not yet ready to engage in healthy debate. If something does come to mind, great. Now, think of another thing you’re curious about…and then another, and so on. You can play this ‘curiosity game’ by yourself at first to prepare for a healthy debate with others. Then, when you’re ready, lean into healthy debate trusting that you and others will come out of it more informed and appreciative. And perhaps you’ll even enjoy the debate process more than you imagined. 

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