The Debate Club

We all have opinions, especially technical people. But just because we are opinionated it doesn’t mean that you should have an opinion about everything. And even if you do have opinions about every single thing, it doesn’t mean that you should be debating it when it doesn’t matter!

Now, this is rarely the issue for the actual executives I work with. But in about half of the companies I see there’s this Debater. Usually one of the earlier employees, this is a person that everyone has come to expect to speak up every single time. (Note: if you’re feeling confused because one of my previous articles was about the importance of speaking up, don’t be. There’s a difference between speaking up and hogging every single discussion.)

The Debater himself (I’m sorry if this isn’t PC, I’ve yet to see a woman do this) is usually oblivious and never malicious. Yet this issue, when left unattended, usually results in the rest of the team slowly giving up. I’ve heard many say how they go into meetings expecting a long rant about the semantics of something that doesn’t really matter. Or a whole theoretical discussion with no point.

As the Debater is usually senior and has a lot of domain knowledge, it is natural for people to initially heed their opinions and let them talk. But this eventually becomes a regular hindrance where the rest of the team stops talking and clam up whenever they realize their opinion doesn’t match the Debater as they fear poking the dragon.

I promise you that I am not exaggerating here to make a point. I’ve seen organizations where people would switch teams, consider changing jobs, and simply start yelling once they’ve had enough. And as a leader, this is on you to stop this. Whatever behavior you don’t stop when it’s happening in your meetings becomes behavior you condone.

The takeaway is to open your calendar and look at the last week or so. Think of the discussions and meetings that took place. Do you have a Debater at hand? Is there an airtime hog that takes up most of every meeting they’re in? This is a great opportunity to help even a senior employee grow and become a better team player. And it’s a great chance for you to grow your coaching skills.

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