Why we encourage arguments at work

Conflict in the workplace isn’t really considered ideal, but what if it’s constructive? 

At Matchmade, we started a little experiment. Proving that debate clubs aren’t limited to the scholarly confines of university unions, we initiated one of our own. So far, it’s shown that productive disagreements can be a healthy form of effective communication.

The first rule of debate club is: 

Do talk about it. But stick to your side. 

So how does it all work? Normally, one of our employees brings up a motion that involves something to do with the company. These topics can range from the ethical and philosophical, to practical, operational matters. 

To give you an idea, here are some of our past topics: 

“Teams should be formed around goals instead of functions”

“The company should encourage its employees to be physically active”

“There should be a four day work week”

“There should be a minimum spend of $XX to work with Matchmade”

We split the team into two groups – ‘for’ and ‘against’. Each side is allocated at random. Even if you disagree with the motion, you must stick to your side. One of the team members takes notes which everyone can reflect on and even use to implement future changes. The discussion often carries on after the debate has officially ended, and during this time, we often talk about our genuine thoughts on the topic and whether it unexpectedly changed our minds.

Here are some of our learnings from the debate club: 

1. The debate in itself is an exercise in empathy. By allowing ourselves to examine the positive aspects of things that we don’t necessarily agree with, it can foster an understanding environment in which everything can have a flip side. This can be integral to preventing ‘black-and-white’ thinking.

2. In some cases, debates actually initiated structural changes that would not have necessarily been implemented without a discussion weighing up the pros and cons beforehand.

3. It helps to eliminate silos. Rather than segregating our opinions and comprehension of company mechanisms according to our responsibilities, the debate encourages us to learn and understand issues and conundrums across departments and how they impact the company as a whole.

4. The debates offer the opportunity for all members of the company to engage in an active dialogue together. With different meetings and schedule conflicts often standing in the way of this, our weekly debate club provides one of those rare moments when it’s actually possible.

5. Presentation nerves can be rife – especially if you’re new to the team. Engaging in debate – particularly if you’re arguing for something you don’t necessarily believe in – can help alleviate stage fright and make those that are prone to shyness feel more comfortable.

The most important matter is to ensure that communication remains effective to prevent any heated escalation. 

This means that collectively, we agree to be respectful, not to interject when someone is explaining their point, to listen, and to try to give feedback that is constructive. 

So all in all, advocating for ‘arguments’ at work does not have to always be a bad thing – it allows us to gain new perspectives, feel more confident with coworkers, and creates a safe space for sharing ideas. 

Find out more about how we work in this piece on how and why we do 360 feedback.