A call for the lost art of confrontation as an effective process design tool

In my job as a business analyst, whenever a system change in our software was needed, I would spar with my college. We would each take one position of what we thought what was the best solution. Often we would take opposite positions, although sometimes we did not even believe them. The goal was to argue the best way as we could in order to eventually build a better system. This could become passionate at times. We could say: ‘you are out of your mind to think that your solution can work!’ This approach worked very effectively. By scrubbing away superficial politeness we were able to go to the heart of the matter. After such a confrontation we would have a full understanding of the process and we would bury the hatched. It never became personal, because we were working together towards a higher goal. One would have a thesis, the other an antithesis and together we would come to a synthesis.

This way of working had a lot of benefits. For example, you were allowed to reload as often as you could! With this I mean, you could have an incorrect assumption or idea, but you could then just pose a new objection as often as you could. Another great thing was that you could be passionate. Because the business always came first, you say everything what came from your guts, heart and mind and still nobody became offended. It didn’t matter who was right or wrong, the best result for the business mattered.

In order to be able to work like this, it helped that in my job as a business analyst the subject at hand was objective. You could have long discussions, but in the end there were objectively better solutions. It also worked well because the discussions were process related instead of outcome related. We didn’t care if the car was green, red or yellow: as long as the engine of the car was solid. And from a personal angle it was good that we were equal and not overly sensitive.

This is where I think that political correctness does not work. Without opposition, there is no deeper understanding or progress. There is a thesis and an antithesis, but no synthesis, There is just a stalemate. I would like to see these confrontational and passionate debates return in our social discourse. I do not care what you think. As long as we can discuss with each other we can come to solutions. I can think that you are wrong, but I will not dismiss you as sexist, extremist, not emphatic, ect. When we believe that we are all working towards one higher goal then we can work things out together irrespective of our differences. Then we can still be passionate and make mistakes, but we would eventually be able to come to a deeper understanding together.

Unfortunately, those days seem to be gone at my job. By college has become my boss. And although we were able to keep this way of working for some times (and still do from time to time), he had to pull ranks on me a couple of times. Because there was no equality anymore the delicate balance of thesis, antithesis and synthesis was gone. My boss pulling ranks meant making decisions before the natural process came to an end. Another thing was that he would discuss certain process changes with other people instead of with me. This disrupted the trust and respect of the relationship. Finally, his role as a manager meant that we needed to be professional. I was no longer able to say everything to my boss. I have received some remarks on my personal record for being too passionate and rude. As a result our workplace has become more professional and less passionate. And, I dare to say, the quality of our software solutions has decreased because of this.

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