Moderating a debate is no easy task. Just ask Anderson Cooper and Martha Raddatz.
In this year's presidential election, the moderators of each debate have inevitably come under fire by viewers from both parties for asking the wrong questions or not fact-checking thoroughly enough.
And yet, moderators play an essential role in any debate. Without them, the conversation lacks structure and there is an increased risk of angry, counter-productive language.
Effective leaders must moderate from time to time. Debate among employees is a healthy practice that can give important airtime to big issues and lead to strong new ideas. It's also a sign of engagement when employees care enough about the direction of the company that they will go to bat for or against an idea.
But beware - debate can quickly spiral out of control without a strong leader at the helm.
Here are three ways to drive debates between your employees toward productive resolutions:
1. Stick to the Questions
Strong leaders don't rule over their employees, telling them exactly what to do and when. Instead, they coach employees to do these things independently and to own their role in the company.
If two of your employees are discussing a problem, ask leading questions to get them to work together toward a solution. You may already know how you'd like to solve the problem, but by letting them propose a solution, you are empowering them to think for themselves and to work with someone who may have a very different stake in the solution.
Moderators don't get to respond to their own questions during debates, but they can give a framework to the discussion through the progression of their questions and follow-ups.
Playing the moderator and keeping yourself out of the conversation as much as possible will likely bring about a solution with more buy-in sooner than simply handing out instructions. They may also come up with a better solution that you hadn't considered.
2. Fact-Check Your Employees
While it's a good practice to stick to leading the conversation through questions, you also have an obligation to be the resident fact-checker. You've likely been at the company longer and are in a leadership position, so you often have information that has not been shared with the company as a whole.
Remember that your employees are not political candidates. Their skin may not be as thick, and they are not expected to know everything about the many moving parts within your company. Correct their misunderstandings quickly. Sit them down in private when you correct them, and end the meeting with an action plan.
When your employee leaves the meeting, he or she should have a broader perspective and a more informed idea of how to move forward.
3. Resolve Conflict Immediately
Work should not be a hostile place. There's a clear difference between a debate and an argument. If you notice two employees starting to develop a contentious relationship, cut it off early.
Sit down with the involved employees separately and make sure that you completely understand each side of the story. Discipline yourself to defer judgment during this exploration.
Once you understand the problem, bring both parties together to discuss solutions. Remember your role as a neutral coach and be mindful that angry language is generally not productive. Frame your questions in positive ways that help each see where the other is coming from. As cliché as it sounds, the "And how did that make you feel?" question can be very helpful in a discussion of this nature.
Remind them of the goal at hand or of your company's core values. Debates tend to go south when one person feels like they are on the losing side. Once a solution has been reached, remind the wounded party of the greater good at stake and how they are helping you achieve it. If warranted, a bit of positive public recognition for the person on the "losing side" will help put a bruised ego to bed.
Just as in politics, debate drives companies forward. Keep these tips in mind and you will help your team discuss, examine and implement the next big idea in a productive way.