Break it up.

In team meetings, passionate debate is an often necessary catalyst for productivity.  It creates a sense of urgency and seriousness regarding the issue being discussed and drives a team to make decisions.  But there is a point at which a passionate debate can turn into a passionate dogfight.  No longer catalyzing productivity, it becomes more about advancing personal agendas.
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Healthy debate is about making right decisions.  Unhealthy debate is about being right.
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There are two things to remember when a passionate team debate starts to become unhealthy:
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1.  The dogfight is NEVER productive.
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When the focus in the room moves from productivity to personal agendas, nothing is ever accomplished.
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2.  The person in a fight is never the one to break it up.
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If you”ve ever seen a fistfight, you know this to be true.  As soon as you engage in unhealthy debate, you lose the credibility to bring it to an end.  It can be very difficult to resist crossing the line from healthy to unhealthy debate.  The level of passion involved blurs it quickly.  But once you cross that line, you will never be the person to bring the team back to productive conversation.  That”s why it”s so important to be aware of the shift and not move with it.  It takes someone outside of the fight to end the fight.
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Debate passionately.  But remain aware of the health of the debate.  By refusing to continue when it becomes unhealthy, you maintain the ability to bring your team back to productivity.
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[Note:  There is one exception to the second point.  It occurs when the team member with the highest level of authority engages in a dogfight and then uses his/her power to end it.  But in that instance, he looks more like a bully than a peacekeeper.]
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Ryan Stigile

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