Are We Here to Win an Argument, or to Make a Change?

My daughter Nora recently shared a situation she experienced with a committee she serves on at her university. The leadership of this committee needed to make a decision that would substantially affect the whole organization, and a heated debate ensued. As she described it, there were two sides to the issue, and each side was trying to enlist support for its stance. 

Nora said, “And this guy arguing the other side just really seemed like he wanted to win. But winning would mean all of these people couldn’t participate in what we do.”

As an outside observer, there were far more than two possible solutions to the issue, but each side had become entrenched in its viewpoint. I told her that it sounded to me like the competitive zeal of each side to win the argument had obscured the real-life impact of the decision they were trying to make. 

The question they were trying to settle, in my mind, was: How can we maximize participation while also making financially sound decisions? But instead the group narrowed the discussion to only two possible options, then dug in their heels.

I wish this seemed like an “oh, young people and their dramas!” moment to me, but of course it isn’t. In organizations large and small, from the highest halls of government to local PTAs and church fundraisers, we lose sight of our purpose. Our drive to win becomes entangled with our sense of rightness, and it’s hard to remain curious and open-minded. 

Does this sound familiar to you? What do you do when you sense purpose slipping away in favor of winning?

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