There’s a difference between “communication” and “effective communication”. Don’t worry, this isn’t one of my key takeaways. Last week I had the pleasure of delivering a workshop on “Effective Communication” to the staff of Senseeker Engineering, Inc. I have to admit that in planning this session, I felt a little intimidated. Their staff consists of highly accomplished and intelligent engineers with advanced degrees. I thought, surely if they’ve made it this far in their careers, they know how to effectively communicate! I wondered how I was going to keep them engaged but then I remembered that everyone, including PhDs, can use a refresher on how important it is to make sure you understand what someone’s trying to tell you by restating it back to them in your own words. It was fun to get the Senseeker staff practicing paraphrasing skills while at the same time getting to know one another by paraphrasing a story around “the toughest thing you ever had to learn”. I am hopeful that the Senseeker team will be using the powerful paraphrasing starter phrases that we covered in the training such as, “so if I understand you correctly…” and “in other words…” for a long time to come.
What took this session to the next level, however, was a focus on how debate in the workplace can lead to increased productivity and creativity. The Founder of Senseeker, Mr. Kenton Veeder, insightfully requested that this be an area of focus for the session. In my design research for this portion of the training, I learned several interesting things:
1) Debate is different than conflict, and terminology matters. When we think about “conflict” in the workplace, it almost always has a negative connotation. However, when we reframe our thinking and phraseology to “debate” in reference to a difference of opinion, it takes the emotion out of it and leads to curiosity and advanced learning.
2) Healthy and constructive debate is a key component of high-functioning teams. In a study conducted by the Myers Briggs company in 2008, five thousand workers were asked “Does respectful debate increase learning, productivity and creativity?” The top results were that 41% said healthy debate leads to better understanding of others; 33% said improved working relationships; and 26% said better solution to a problem or challenge. What I found interesting about these results is the strong focus on people. While “solution to a problem or challenge” is mentioned as a beneficial outcome, the professionals felt that the more important result of healthy debate in the workplace relates to improving understanding and relationships with their colleagues. Which leads me to my final key takeaway from designing this session:
3) Greater diversity leads to stronger teams. Differences in opinion arise from differences between people. When people with varying viewpoints, experiences, skills, and opinions are tasked with a project or challenge, the combined effort can far surpass what any group of similar individuals could achieve. Team members have to be open to these differences and be equipped with tools for managing them effectively. The tools I offered in my session for effectively handling debate in the workplace came from the book, Crucial Conversations. Yet there are many different ways employers can promote and train their teams to be successful in handling their differences of opinions. The important thing is that workplaces make it clear to their staff that they value them as individuals, they value their backgrounds and experiences, and that they value healthy, respectful debate.
 Source: Workplace Conflict and How Businesses Can Harness it to Thrive, The Myers Briggs Company, 2008