How to win when your ideas or goals are being debated

If you're not reading this in Canada (and maybe if you are) you might be surprised to know that our national broadcaster produces a reality tv show based on having 5 celebrities champion 5 books until one is declared "the book Canada needs now). The show is watched by people who read books and by people who would like to read books (if only they had time or liked reading). The format is basically debate followed by a vote to eliminate one book each day.

In many ways, this strikes me as a typical meeting format for deciding how to spend limited resources. People make arguments until someone loses and their budget or their product or their idea gets cut. It's so typical that we rarely wonder if there is another way to arrive at a solution.

If you're engaged in a debate to the death of your idea or your position or your budget, consider these lessons from Canada Reads:

  • You only have to push a couple of buttons to have people abandon their principles in favour of the win. If you keep the big picture in mind, you can resist having your buttons pushed but it will take a deliberate commitment to remaining true to your big picture win.
  • You will need friends. Before you go on the attack, wonder how that plays out in the next round. Winners at Canada Reads are often the debaters who are strong enough to find some good in all the options.
  • You need to listen with ears wide open. It's not good enough to use the time when other people are plotting to plan your next speech in favour of your own views and priorities. Opportunity is opened up by careful attention to what other people think and value.
It's often true in real life that there is no one absolutely best choice. It's complicated. If you want to survive the process, you have to commit to two things: live your values (so you can fight another day) and pay attention to every word (so you can find the opening that will support your solution).


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