Productive Discussions

Having a productive discussion that aims to gather the group knowledge requires planning and special attention. You most probably are in a team figuring out an idea or tackling the best solution of a problem. The following framework is suitable for smaller teams of critical thinkers. This is not based on science concepts but rather an experience gathered from our team discussions.

I. Set Topic and Goal

Set the topic of the discussion. Then set the goal (e.g. decision on should we have a blog) and possible outcomes of the discussion (e.g. Yes / No / Postponed). Make sure to mention how much time the discussion should take, and if it takes more than that, have the organizer (or stakeholder) party take a quick final decision or if not possible - postpone it.

II. Set Ground Rules and Facts

Set truthful, real, and when possible, fact-based reality within the topic to be discussed. Enlist the concepts that will be involved in the discussion. Each discussion member should acknowledge the rules and facts before starting the discussion, so you can all think on a common ground. It is vital to keep the energy of the people not wasted due to lack of knowledge on rules and facts from some team members. These facts are underlying, bigger than the topic, on which actually the topic steps on.

III. Start Discussion

You can have a list of points or one general point to be discussed. Having the idea/problem defined and the common ground facts set, now is the dialogue time.

I personally prefer a one-way flat process, which goes as follows,

Idea > Arguments > Counterarguments > Recap > Decision

If the topic involves multiple subtopics, use this flow for each subtopic separately.

Try to avoid:

  • Going off-topic by having "counterarguments" not specific to the arguments
  • Going into circles by giving the same arguments or counterarguments that the group has already disagreed or resolved
  • Repeating an argument that has shown to be faulty

IV. Giving Arguments and Counterarguments

Before reasoning, make sure to restate or paraphrase the insights that participants give as a feedback. Ask questions if something is not clear. You absolutely want to avoid communication breakdown on the road, so doing this in advance saves everybody’s time.

As a flow of argumentation, I usually use two approaches:

Round Robin

This is a circle-based indirect approach of having each member of the group contribute with feedback when is his/her turn.

Direct Inquiry

The approach of going member to member and directly ask for input and contribution to the discussion.

As a general rule, ideas are more valuable when they have better arguments, and even more valuable when an implementation plan is provided. It is not important who is giving them.

V. Recap and Decision

When you have gathered the group intelligence and arrived at a decision, it is a good idea to write down its specifics. It will be a letter of reference when it comes down to the same problem.

Feel free to share how you organize your productive discussions in the comments section below.

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