by Gary Gasaway (USA)

Many of the executives that I have coached, typically possess differences of opinion regarding their role in group debates. These debates are usually taking place in a group setting such as a staff meeting. As a coach, I ask these executives questions regarding how to handle certain conflictive situations, with debates being a common issue for executives to handle. What I have concluded is that many executives engage in one of three strategies regarding conflict during debates: 1. They clamp down on the debate immediately, or 2. They let it go until heated arguments erupt, or 3. They do nothing and walk away from the uncomfortable environment. Most agree with #1. My first question might go something like this: “As it relates to debates in employee meetings, do you find your role of clamping down, or closing debates is the best way to get the meeting back on task?”

Most say yes. Clamping down, or closing the debates are the best for achieving harmony within the group. The sooner, the better. I respond with: There are two ways to look at this situation – one, if the debates reach a most effective solution, then I would disagree with the idea of ‘clamping down on the debates and try to achieve harmony.’ On the other hand, secondly, if these debates were to go on too long and continue to end in no solution in the immediate future, then I would consider stepping in and acknowledging that it is unhealthy; thus, no accomplishments are being made towards the goals of the meeting. I go on to add that, most importantly, the executive should really look at conflicts, such as this, as an opportunity to transform and move from assuming negative outcomes to expecting positive ones. Thus, creating possibilities for learning, growing, and improving relationships within the group, at the same time, coming away with better, more effective solutions, ideas, and processes.

The key here is that these groups take their work very seriously and want to improve the groups’ operations. Further, it appears as though most members want to participate in these debates, but not all members feel listened to. So, they sit quietly and do not participate. Many debates are really just disagreements. For this issue, empathic listening from the executive is necessary and requires focus upon the awareness of not just merely on the words being used, but on what the group may be thinking or feeling without words. Observing non-verbal’s is vital.

The point is to keep awareness that when group members bicker, everyone suffers. Minor disputes over process or tactics can cause major distractions in the workplace. Work gets interrupted and an unpleasant tension hangs in the air. As a leader, they may be tempted to step in right away. Before doing so, I suggest to them to consider these factors:

Source: iCN Issue 28  (Corporate Coaching); pages 11-13

About Gary Gasaway

Gary is the founder of Conflict Coaching Solutions, LLC, a professional life coaching business that focuses on inspiring individuals, couples, and/or groups to transform their conflictive situations into positive solutions.

Before creating his company, Gary was a “corporate coach” for a large utility company in Southern California. During his 32 years with this company, Gary designed and developed several coaching courses and workshops that he facilitated to supervisors and managers throughout the company.

Gary also has now written and published four books; The Coach’s Chronicles Trilogy and just published; The Reflection Connection. For additional information regarding Gary and his business or books, go to: