Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 15, Issue 28;   July 15, 2015: Ethical Debate at Work: II

Ethical Debate at Work: II

by

Outcomes of debates at work sometimes favor one party, not only at the expense of the other or others, but also at the expense of the organization. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for steering debates toward wise outcomes.
President Obama meets with Congressional leaders

President Obama meets with Congressional leaders to discuss the fiscal cliff and a balanced approach to the debt limit and deficit reduction, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on November 16, 2012. Over the years, the history of budget negotiations among the parties has been dotted with threats and brinksmanship, in a series of attempts by one side or another to intimidate the other and "win." It's difficult to argue that the results of these tactics have been productive for anyone involved. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.

Ethical debate at work is the activity most likely to produce outcomes consistent with organizational health and personal wellbeing. Last time, we recommended that debate participants share what they know about the issue at hand, and avoid using rhetorical fallacies. We continue now with recommendations for adopting constructive tactics and avoiding some of the more toxic tactics.

Acknowledge truths
Disputing a debate partner's assertion when you know it's true is disingenuous at best, and probably outright dishonest. For example, objecting to a claim because it's invalid in a few cases might be technically correct, but it's misleading. A more ethical stance would be arguing that the claim is too broad, and suggesting a search for a mutually acceptable formulation.
Acknowledging truths in your debate partner's arguments can begin a search for common ground. It contributes to joint problem solving, steering away from a sequence of attacks and counterattacks.
Identify misconceptions
When your debate partner is operating under a misconception — a factual or logical error — identify it, even if doing so strengthens your debate partner's position. Failing to identify it can be tempting because no action is required. Identifying the misconception can guide the debate toward sturdy, valid outcomes. That goal is in jeopardy if one of the debaters is confused.
Take care, though. Pointing out misconceptions can seem like personal criticism. Tread carefully.
Don't use personal power
Danger lies in overwhelming or disarming your debate partner by using your own personal attributes, such as political power, attractiveness, physical size, intellectual capabilities, technical knowledge, or charm. Using force or seduction to compel your debate partner to accept your position probably is not in the interest of the organization.
Respect your debate partner as you would yourself like to be respected.
Don't threaten
Any tactic Respect your debate partner as you
would yourself like to be respected
that exploits the emotional state of your debate partner could bias the outcome of the debate relative to what would have resulted from a debate focused solely on the merits of the issue. In addition to threats, avoid attacking, accusing, condescending, or intentionally confusing or flustering your debate partner.
Intentionally creating in your debate partner any emotional state that interferes with clear thinking is ethically questionable. It can lead to outcomes inferior for the organization because they don't fairly represent your partner's interests.
Avoid bribery
Offering goods, services, information, or anything of value in exchange for concessions is ethically questionable, and might even be criminal. What is less clear, though, is the ethics of offering concessions in one debate in exchange for receiving concessions in another.
Such exchanges might benefit all parties to the debate, but harm the organization, because neither of the debates will have been decided on their merits.

Whether any action is ethical can be difficult to decide. One useful test is to ask yourself whether you'd like the world (or your boss, or your CEO) to know what you've done. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Down in the Weeds: I  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenTYMuTQJjdUbDuRsnner@ChacRJfBhfymHUlAEIlnoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

A team raises a wall of a new home sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban DevelopmentWorkplace Barn Raisings
Until about 75 years ago, barn raising was a common custom in the rural United States. People came together from all parts of the community to help construct one family's barn. Although the custom has largely disappeared in rural communities, we can still benefit from the barn raising approach in problem-solving organizations.
USS Lexington, an early aircraft carrierTroublesome Terminology
The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
The piping plover, a threatened species of shore birdUsing the Parking Lot
In meetings, keeping a list we call the "parking lot" is a fairly standard practice. As the discussion unfolds, we "park" there any items that arise that aren't on the agenda, but which we believe could be important someday soon. Here are some tips for making your parking lot process more effective.
Soldiers of IX Engineering Command, U.S. Army Air Force, putting down a Pierced Steel Planking (PSP) Runway at an Advanced Landing Ground under construction somewhere in France following the Normandy Landings of World War IIManagement Debt: I
Management debt, like technical debt, arises when we choose paths — usually the lowest-cost paths — that lead to recurring costs that are typically higher than alternatives. Why do we take on management debt? How can we pay it down?
A black kite, a species of hawkEmbolalia and Stuff Like That: II
Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases — let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content, even when what they contain is little more than "um."

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenhNvimvrSxvQiflaNner@ChacTDRFCVOwtnZNvwRyoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.