It’s Not Easy To Disagree. But We Decided It’s Important.

by Jaleh Bisharat

It’s funny how debatable the topic of debate is.

And how much you can tell about any organization by its debating style.

I’d seen some pretty questionable stuff before – like at companies where disagreement devolved into personal attacks. I can’t say this encouraged people to speak their minds.

Then there’s the opposite: so much consensus that it’s a long, windy road to any decision. And you’re never sure the best ideas have been wrestled to the ground.

Do you know what I mean?

Honestly, one of the reasons I’ve loved starting NakedPoppy with Kimberly is we’ve had the chance to define a flourishing, happy culture – one that works to bring out the best in everyone and the business itself.

If there’s anything I’m sure of, it’s that behavior patterns get set early and culture starts at the top.

So, when it comes to the way we interact, we decided to be intentional about four things:

  1. Intense, passionate debate and discussion is prized.

Challenging each other is a badge of honor. We often thank each other for pushing the other one and looking at an issue from multiple angles.

But here’s the rule: debate is strictly about ideas. It’s not personal.

People should leave the room feeling like we got to a better place. If anyone feels hurt or stupid, we’ve failed.

  1. Discourage a culture of “idea ownership.”

As soon as you make a habit of emphasizing “Nancy’s idea” or “Sarah’s idea,” it makes people want to claim credit for their ideas. And for “Justin” to be frustrated if he feels “Sarah’s idea” originated with him.

Is this how we want people spending their mental energy? And is it even true that the best ideas always come from one person?

Our view is most great ideas build on each other. This often happens during none other than passionate debate! And, the same ideas can come to multiple smart people working on the same problem anyway.

  1. Let the customer decide.

We can discuss and debate and ideate. But let’s not forget our real boss and decision maker: the customer.  

Recently our product team suggested a new approach: that we score each makeup recommendation so customers would know the probability any given product would look good on her.

I had initial hesitations about this. But we’re moving forward with it.


Because in customer testing women loved it! And that settled that.

  1. When bad stuff comes up, no matter how small, nip it in the bud.

Kimberly is good at this. One time, she’d shared some product dates that seemed a bit aggressive. I was reminded of how a former colleague would say what people wanted to hear, even when it wasn’t realistic.

So I called Kimberly and said, “I wonder if you’re giving rosy dates, like our former colleague used to.” And I hung up.  

She called me back right away and said, “That didn’t sit right with me, what you just said. Why refer to another person? What does that have to do with you and me?”

Kimberly was right. I had raised my concerns in a roundabout way. I apologized. I was glad she nipped the issue in the bud. I was grateful!

I’ve worked at companies of all shapes and sizes. At every one, culture has been a defining factor in success. Not to mention core to everyone’s daily experience.

Why not be happy, challenged, and fulfilled?

We’re far from perfect, but we do work hard to encourage passionate, productive debate and to build a joyful, customer-centric culture.

An industry colleague recently said, “Children hear 1% of what you say but notice 100% of what you do.”

Wow. Such a memorable way to illustrate a larger point about the way people experience their leaders.

So we over-communicate about what we want our culture to look like and, more importantly, embrace the behavior that reflects it.

Because when what you say and what you do come together... that's when the magic happens :)

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