Negotiating with One’s Self Seldom Produces a Barroom Brawl

I think it was Warren Buffett who was credited with saying this. I buy it. I completely buy it. The gist of the phrase is that we tend to fall in love with our ideas and decisions. We’re not likely to challenge ourselves after decisions are made or ideas are formed. Unfortunately, we are not perfect.

We need debate and argument. We need to stimulate discussion. Debate teams don’t take a single position on an issue. Consider the Supreme Court. I’m sure decisions would be rendered more quickly if we just picked one justice to rule on an issue. But I’m certain we see other issues surfacing if we elect that course.

I consider myself a contrarian. I push my colleagues and clients to reflect on the alternatives. I will often take the contrarian side even when I don’t believe it’s the right alternative. I just want to extend, maybe exhaust, the thinking. I believe we become more committed to the best alternative when we have to defend it.

I recall a nonprofit board where I was its treasurer. At a monthly finance committee meeting one of our more outspoken members was unable to attend. Many of the remaining committee members were sharing the same or similar thought: “Well we’ll surely move more quickly through the agenda.” I quickly pushed back, “We may move more quickly, but will we move correctly?”

There will be a time in all debates when a decision needs to be made and the direction supported. I’ve coached many businesses on this lesson. It’s ok to wrestle an issue to the ground, but when it’s time to open the door and deliver the decision to the staff, we need to be as one. If we allow the debate to continue we run the risk of losing any momentum and leadership is weakened.

I urge you to look around the room of your next meeting. Ask yourself these questions, “Has everyone taken the opportunity to provide their thoughts or questions? Has the conversation exposed all sides, all potential alternatives?” It’s important we hear from everyone. We all know the loudest voices in the room (guilty, here) tend to monopolize the conversation. We need to bring the quiet to the discussion on the table. How many times do we find that those are the voices with the most punch? I recently hosted a dinner where a central topic took the floor. After considerable discussion, the gentleman sitting next to me offered his only comment of the night. And its value rang the loudest. It took folks a little while to feel the weight of his remarks. A powerful moment recognized by many.

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