Presentation Hack: "Whether you believe it or not..."

A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don't have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed. - Nelson Mandela
In complexity, there are often opposing views, values, or approaches to various situations.

What's the best way to talk about the issues?

Answer: Debate.

But how can a moderator better facilitate a healthy debate?

A lot depends on the relationships between the attendees or participants in the room. It can even come down to the relationship between the moderator and the participants. Whatever the case, I've learned some fairly universal techniques to draw out discussion points that highlight the tensions, tradeoffs, risks, compromises, and side effects with a complex situation....regardless of the personalities.

How or can you remove the person from the stance? How or can we break the connection between an idea or belief...from the messenger?

Instead of asking for how attendees think or feel about a situation (which maintains the personal connection)....request:
Someone give me one (1) of the sides of this argument.
This sanitizes the side of the issue from the person giving it.
Whether you believe it or not, someone support the argument that _________.
With a statement as such, you're asking for a person to defend an argument, stance, opinion, or belief. It makes no assumption that the person defending it actually believes it. In fact, it explicitly disconnects the defender.
Jim just argued _______. Now someone else argue [the other side].
Again, we aren't attacking "Jim" here. We aren't even attacking what Jim thinks or believes. (Heck, the point is that we don't even know what Jim thinks or believes!) What we are doing is attacking that stance.

As a US police trainer, I still moderate workshops for use of force and police tactics. It's a complex topic that's influenced by: law; agency policy; officer morals; police culture; peers; supervisors; training; community expectations; natural sciences / human factors; media criticism; and a whole lot more.

I use case studies to plot various decisions and actions against each other. Basically, we discuss what options a particular police officer has during a tense, uncertain encounter with a citizen or situation. But also, why certain options might be better or worse than another option.

Video case studies, simulations, and decision-forcing cases can bring out a lot of emotion. And often, when done inappropriately, they bring out bullies and strong personalities - both of which can kill healthy debate.

For this reason, I force groups within the workshop to adopt particular options or alternatives, defend or attack certain viewpoints, or argue specific legal/ethical/risk management issues. By assigning these roles out, I remove the persons from the ideas. Obviously some of the persons will be assigned roles that align with their personal beliefs or philosophies. But not always.

This approach requires that attendees look at challenges from alternate perspectives, viewpoints, and positions. It requires they look at and consider another list of pros and cons to a particular choice or decision.

This method demands that participants see issues more fully. It gives them an opportunity to more fully understand the risks, tradeoffs, or compromises they may be taking with certain decision routes.

I've said it before: There are no objective solutions in complexity; only interventions.

We need to more deeply forecast the potential second- or third-order costs and benefits of our interventions in complex situations. Call it prediction. Call it anticipation. Call it whatever. We need to figure out how our decisions can go right...but also what we might be sacrificing along the way.

As long as we keep ideas and people connected, we limit the ability to critique those ideas without hurting feelings of those who offered them to the group.

Figure out how to separate the ideas and viewpoint from the people, and you'll experience better debates among your people.

I've long believed that those who can argue multiple sides of an issue are those who are more informed, more aware, more purposeful, and act knowing what the potential pitfalls are.

Whether you agree with me or not, give me a perspective on this method.

Aside from writing on a variety of topics, I publish a column of blog posts under the label Presentation Hack. Check them out for ideas, tips, and tricks to better public speaking or classroom experiences!


Lou Hayes, Jr. is a criminal investigations & intelligence unit supervisor in a suburban Chicago police department. With a passion for training, he studies human performance & decision-making, creativity, emotional intelligence, and adaptability. Follow Lou on Twitter at @LouHayesJr or on LinkedInHe also maintains a LinkedIn page for The Illinois Model.


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