Sr Samuel Chong, QS. The Malaysian Consultant

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Sr Samuel Chong
Posts: 103


When I was a student in university, I remember my friends in architectural studies telling me how they have to face a 'jury' to present their design assignments. The jury would shoot the students many questions and even argue the inadequacies of the students' work and the students would have to justify and defend their work. The students would be assessed based on their reasoned answers and how prepared they were to give their answers.

I don't know if that was standard practice for all architectural students in all universities or it's only practised in that university in that country during my time. I do know we did not have any such debative approach in my non-architectural course and I was very glad with that during that time. However, on reflection, I now wish all courses should incorporate some form of debative approach in one or some subjects so that our sentimental flash point can be trained and elevated, so that we can all be more educated and prepared to handle healthy debates in our life and professional world.

 As a result of this lack of mental and social skill in handling debates, many people grow up handicapped in this area. Simple disagreements become confrontational and is deemed as not being a team player or worse, a challenge to someone's authority or leadership. That's where the title comes in - “You dare question me ? You want to challenge me ah ?” In some situations, disagreements escalate into violence.

There are always pros and cons in any situation. A glass of water is not just half full, but it is also half empty. A zebra may be considered a white animal with black stripes or a black animal with white stripes or an animal with black and white stripes. We cant just look at all the benefits of an option compared to another option. We also need to balance our views with considerations of the risks, disadvantages, weaknesses, problems, dangers, etc. In the end, the decision may not be dependent on the list of Pros but dependent on the list of Cons. Once the Cons are identified, it may be decided that the identified problems or risks or issues can adequately be controlled, managed, solved, etc and hence the particular beneficial option can be accepted.

Group discussions and debates has another benefit. It encourages and nurture support from company staff and management alike and ensure smooth implementation of new ideas / concepts, especially in the operation side. In the movie Star Trek 2009, one of the tests they put all Starfleet cadets through was an impossible test which everyone was expected to fail. The point of the test was to assess and train how everyone deals with pressure and impossible situations and ... failure.

Many of us, especially Asians, are so entrenched in the unquestioning or non-debative culture that it is hard or even dangerous to venture to change the situation. Here are some suggestions / proposals as to how it may be done in your company :

  • Do a separate or special debate meeting with approval of the big boss and let the debate meeting be chaired by someone else apart from the big boss. The big boss can be an inhibition to healthy debates in many ways. This is because the boss may also be not used or trained to getting questioned or what is normally perceived to be 'criticisms'. Staff normally do not argue or debate with their bosses out of fear or respect or other reasons. The chairperson can be a lower ranking manager or an outside consultant or somebody whom the staff view as receptive to viewpoints and suggestions. 
  • The situation may be so passive in the company that despite doing the above suggestion and few rounds of invitation to speak up, people may still be quiet with smiling faces. Do mock debate – divide them into 2 teams, one to cook up the pros and another team to cook up cons for the new product / concept / idea. Such play mode will encourage opening up and nurture more creativity. 

What happens if you fail and lose your job or land up in prison for speaking up ? Ahem. This is where I come in with disclaimers about what I say above is only my opinions and let users beware when applying it in their situations … that I should not be sued or held liable for any losses or hardships you suffer and all the rest ….
If I still get sued or a black eye after saying all that, is there any more doubt about what I say about lack of social and mental skills in people and how there is a need for such?


January 31, 2015 at 11:06 PM Flag Quote & Reply

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