The Mistake You Make in Every Argument

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A colleague says something you completely disagree with. I’m talking full-on, head-tilting, face-scrunching, crazy talk.

You have a split second to decide what to do. Your choice determines whether you wind up in solving a problem or having an argument.

How do you respond?

A) You calmly, rationally tell the person why he’s mistaken; or

B) You do a spit-take, wipe the coffee off your mouth and say, “what the f*ck?”

C) You smile, nod half-heartedly and hope he drops the subject

Ok, trick question. The right answer is D) None of the above.

If you chose A, you tried to trump your teammate. Resistance is guaranteed. Prepare for a fight.

If you chose B, you questioned your colleague’s pride. Made him feel stupid. He’s going underground. This fight will bite you in the butt when you least expect it. He’s on the express train to passive-aggressiveville.

If you chose C, you just dropped the rope, threw in the towel, gave up your chance of getting to a good answer. Wimp!

The only constructive response when your colleague throws down the gauntlet is to first validate what he said.

Yup, you read that right.

Your first move is to validate the point you completely disagree with.

You don’t do that, do you?

How You Invalidate

You probably send very strong signals that you don’t value the perspectives of the person you disagree with.

Think about a recent disagreement. Did you do any of the following:

· After the person spoke, you made no reference to what he said and instead jumped straight in to your opinion

· You got louder and more polarized with each volley

· You questioned the person’s motives

· You challenged his relevance, competence, or preparation

· (Most insidious) You turned your body away from the person and toward all the other people in the room

That’s why you had an argument. Invalidating people makes them cranky.

An Alternative: Try Validating

The next time a colleague serves up an argument, try saying one of the following:

· I think this is a really important issue that we need to hash out.

· Thanks for raising this issue. I’ve been uncomfortable with where we’re heading.

· From your perspective, this is about…

· What you think we’ve been missing from our plan is…

· I think it took guts to put that on the table. I respect that.

· You come at this from a very different perspective than me.

· What I heard you say is… is that accurate?

Validating the person doesn’t mean you agree with his point. It just sends the signal that you are going to problem solve as allies instead of arguing as adversaries.

Validation is the difference between arguing as adversaries and problem solving as allies.

The Pivot

Once you’ve validated the person, you’ll be into joint problem solving. Now you can safely add your perspective.

· I think this is a really important issue we need to hash out. Here’s how I’m thinking about this issue…

· Thanks for raising this issue because I’ve been uncomfortable with where we’re heading. My discomfort stems from…

· From your perspective, this is about… For me, it’s more about…

· What you think we’ve been missing from our plan is… I don’t see it that way. I think… That might be because I…

· I think it took guts to put that on the table. I respect that. So let me reciprocate. Here’s what I’ve been thinking but not saying…

· You come at this from a very different perspective than me so you’re going to see it differently than I do. My perspective is based on…

· What I heard you say is… is that accurate? Now I want to make sure you’ve understood my perspective so we can work toward a solution.

Short-circuit an argument by validating your opponent. It will reduce defensiveness, keep things issue-focused, and greatly increase the speed with which you get to a mutually agreeable solution.

Give it a try in your next argument.

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