Besides achieving results, the next sign of a leader’s value is their ability to articulate – and effectively defend – their ideas. Resources, authority, and reputation can be won or lost in a moment’s notice. Here are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to help you this master this critical, but too often ignored, skill for leaders: argument. Gain the #argumentadvantage!
Don’t think you can avoid it. Leadership is about influencing others to achieve goals – and you are not the only one doing it. Disputes over perspectives or solutions naturally surface. If you can’t defend your ideas when they are challenged, especially against fallacious reasoning or specious objections, then your credibility as a leader will be diminished.
Don’t think of argument as a zero-sum contest. Rarely do people “win.” Most times an argument is the opportunity for you to demonstrate your certainty, confidence and competence as a leader. Opposing perspectives clash, different sides are presented and others judge each position on its substance and accuracy. Think of argument as your time to shine in front of your peers and/or bosses.
Don’t think you MUST always be right. Think of argument as an opportunity to arrive at the best solution possible. You should say to yourself prior to engaging: “I must now calmly and clearly articulate my position while withstanding scrutiny. If I’m correct, great. If not, then I will acquiesce to positions that appear to be more correct or appropriate than mine.” It is this type of intellectual honesty that encourages people to speak up; it also compels others to engage and contribute.
Don’t engage every argument. Knowing when to challenge another’s position is important to your credibility as a leader; knowing when not to argue is invaluable for the simple reason you risk being exposed, intellectually and emotionally. Some arguments are nothing more than pretenses by one party to demonstrate their alpha status (whether actual or desired). Some arguments are just a waste of everyone’s time. Knowing when to maintain silence when others are unnecessary provoking conflicts is a sign of self-control. It is signals you have a focus on what is important versus what is not.
Don’t buy the simplistic image of argument propagated today. There is an art and science to defending your ideas. For instance, natural behaviors influence your manner of arguing. Many “global” thinkers who prefer speed in decision-making unsurprisingly gravitate toward the “direct” approach – the methodology that seeks the “decisive victory” in the quickest manner possible. In industries where rapid decisions are required this approach is advantageous; where risk tolerance is low, this type will appear reckless, if not a liability.
Do understand the purpose of argument. Contrary to the cringe-worthy image of people screaming at one another in a heated exchange, argument indeed has a positive function. If done correctly and constructively, argument becomes a healthy form of intellectual Darwinism. Two or more conflicting ideas or solutions are proposed. Resistance is met and the viability of each is tested. If the ideas withstand scrutiny (rational and irrational) then they become legitimate alternatives. And everyone wins when alternatives exist.
Do understand that preparation for an argument often prevents it. If you are not clear in your communication (and thus your thinking) then expect to be challenged. Anticipate emotions and tempers to kick in as defensive mechanisms. Here argument earns its unpleasant reputation. The irony of preparing to argue is that you decrease the likelihood of it actually happening. The reason is that clarity and precision of your ideas will be carried in your communication, which in turn reduces the ambiguity of your message (which is a significant cause of unnecessary arguments). However, if your message is clear and you are challenged, then you will be prepared! The burden will then fall on your challenger, requiring him or her to provide a feasible alternative to your thought-out solution.
Do understand vague communication signifies unclear thinking. One simple rule to help you gain clarity in your thoughts is to look for nuances in your ideas. Articulating a simple, seemingly harmless distinction between two similar ideas or notions can make an enormous difference in understanding your message. For instance, two words that are often used interchangeably in business strategy are maximization and optimization. Both translate into the usage of resources, yet optimization implies minimum or zero waste.
Do understand the burden of proof. The person who asserts an idea or proposition has the sole obligation to prove it. For example, if you propose a solution, you must back it up. Your audience has to only listen. This fundamental of logic applies to others. If another person’s solution lacks clarity or sound logic, and in desperation they demand you disprove their point, you can easily reply, “This is your proposal. The burden is on you. I didn’t bring it up.”
Do look for a dual benefit in argument. Just as both sides win in a business-employee relationship (you exchange your talents for a paycheck and the ability to professionally grow) the same is true in argument. The organization gains better solutions from the fact that ideas are challenged. The best ones are validated and the unnecessary risks are exposed. You benefit as well. On a personal level your certainty and self-confidence is boosted; on a professional level you demonstrate yourself to be competent as both a professional and as a leader.
There’s an old adage that translates, if you want peace, prepare for war. This counter-intuitive advice is true of argument. By doing your due diligence as a leader, in terms of thinking and communicating your ideas effectively, you reduce chances of being challenged, at least for unnecessary reasons. Moreover, you will build your credibility by contributing quality solutions; you will also greatly strengthen it by constructively defending them. Demonstrate your value as leader by gaining the #argumentadvantage!