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Arguing vs. Debating

Disagreements and differing opinions are going to happen, professionally and personally. When conflict arises, our frame matters as much as our content. I find it helpful to differentiate consciously between arguing and debating. Here are the differences, as I see them:

Arguing (BAD)

  • Discussing the same issue repeatedly (at least three times) without clear progress
  • Focusing on being right and winning rather than achieving the best outcome
  • Allowing discussions to become emotionally charged, defensive, or personal
  • Interrupting, not listening to understand, being disrespectful
  • Leaving discussions without agreement, and everyone committed to their original ideas

Debating (GOOD)

  • Being open-minded to other opinions or finding a compromise
  • Actively listening, asking clarifying questions, and respecting different viewpoints
  • Supporting arguments with data, evidence and past results
  • Framing discussions around shared goals, rather than winning or losing
  • Seeking out opposing views to stress test thinking and identify blind spots

When you feel yourself moving into an arguing stance, there are a few things you can do to move it into a debate, rather than an argument.

First, take a step back. Figuratively or literally. When things escalate, it’s well within your rights to pause and take a break. It’s better to leave a conversation than allow things to be said which can’t be taken back. To figuratively step back, you might try something like, “I think we want to find the best approach here. Let’s take a step back and look at our shared goals. What is an ideal outcome?”

Often, when we’re frustrated with someone, we stop listening to what they’re saying and we focus on our own arguments. This isn’t effective. We must make a conscious decision to fully understand the other person’s perspective before responding. Ask clarifying questions. Summarize your understanding. When we seek understanding over winning, everyone wins. 

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Tricia Tamkin, headhunter, advisor, coach, and gladiator. Tricia has spoken at over 50 recruiting events, been quoted in multiple national publications, and her name is often dropped in groups as the solution to any recruiters’ challenges. She brings over 30 years of deep recruiting experience and offers counsel in a way which is perspective changing and entertaining.

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