How to Win a Business Argument

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By Joe Connelly

You know the scene well – you’re in in the office or conference room, somebody has said something you really don’t agree with, and you decide you have to speak up. Not only that, but what was said has irked you in some way – you can feel your heart beating faster, your senses coming alive, and you just know that your point of view is the right one. You decide to get your point across now. The scene of course is now perfectly set for a good old-fashioned business argument.

This situation is very common in today’s increasingly competitive business environment where staff are constantly expected to do more with less, to be more productive than before, and to do all of this faster than ever. The pressure is evident, results expected, and still you just know that you are right.

A discussion ensues, and you immediately sense that the other person is not really listening. But you instinctively know you are 100% right and the other person is 100% wrong, so you don’t give up so easily. They start to talk, but you cut in before they are finished speaking. You feel yourself getting a little antsy now, since the other person doesn’t seem to “get it”. They decide to cut you off before you’ve finished your point, and start to repeat what they said before in the off chance that you did not fully hear them first time around. You can also tell that they are getting angry since they also suspect that you are not really listening to them. The verbal tennis match has started.

You both talk, you both cut the other person off, you both continue to get angry, and the reasoning becomes both repetitive and completely geared towards proving “I am right.” By now both parties have fully engaged their Reptilian Brain, the oldest part of the brain responsible for “flight or fight” – but there does not seem to be any “flight option”.

How this scenario ends up, is of course up to the individuals and the topic under discussion, but some outcomes can include stalemate, walking out with no resolution, all the way to pulling rank and ‘forcing’ the other party into agreement. Most business arguments don’t end well, even when both people are technically ‘on the same side’. So can anything be done to deliver a better, more synergistic outcome for both parties?

Here are my own personal Top 10 tools to help:

It’s not a competition: you are both on the same side fighting your competition, not your team member. Try to think that achieving the best solution, and not necessarily your solution, is actually best for everyone.

Find the catalyst: when you find yourself getting angry or annoyed, take a breath and look a bit deeper, since it’s likely this point of view is only acting as the catalyst to something brewing inside of you. Take time and find the courage to unearth these deeper forces.

Don’t sweat the small stuff: there is a time to dig-in and fight your ground, and there is a time to willingly accept. Wisdom comes in knowing that not every situation warrants digging-in.

Ask lots of questions: the instant you catch yourself ‘reacting’ to someone’s comments, take a breath. Choose not to automatically share your opinion, or take pride in saying they are wrong, and instead ask clarifying questions. These questions will either help you understand the other person’s comments better, and be able to give you more detail to explain why they are wrong, or alternatively it will illuminate their position enough to convince you they are actually right.

Try laughing: I should say you have to be somewhat careful about this since timed wrongly, can fuel the fire of negative energy between both of you. However, on the right occasions, choosing to laugh about something first can release huge amounts of tension on both sides.

Put things in perspective: often times I see people arguing about the most insignificant and inconsequential of topics. It is wise to try and re-balance the importance of a given point by understanding and sharing where it fits into the bigger picture.

Just agree and give in: now I can hear you saying that you simply could not do that, but if not, ask yourself why not? Often times it is a sign of strength to give the other person the “win”. You might just find the other person is stressed out about something other than the point under discussion, and just agreeing with them can actually get them to calm down. I have actually seen this work on many occasions, and the other person saying something like “You know, now that I think about it, you might actually be correct.”. Reverse psychology or what.

Delay the discussion: when someone has lots of energy around a subject and are “primed” to have the discussion/argument, be wise and suggest (if possible) delaying the discussion for a little bit. This slight delay can often be enough to let the negative energy dissipate. It’s amazing what a few minutes of ‘calming down time’ can do to help actions get resolved quickly and amicably.

Reframe the point: I have seen a point of view articulated in such a way as to be provocative for the other person – try and reframe it whenever possible to take the negative energy out of the explanation, and instead reword in a much more positive manner. This can often be enough to stop the argument in its tracks.

Use silence: when someone is primed for an argument and provocatively giving their point of view, you can try one of two simple things to quickly diffuse the situation. Either, say nothing to give the negative energy time to dissipate, or say something like “Interesting.” and just wait. This often encourages the other party to keep talking, and if both silence and “Interesting.” are used a few times in a row, the speaker can often talk himself or herself into calming down, by getting something off their chest.

With all business arguments, hindsight can be a powerful ally. If only we could get past this argument then more often than not everything blows by, and things quickly get back to normal. But not always. If you have an argument don’t let the after effects linger too long. Remember as a team member it is also your responsibility to make sure your working relationships are exactly that – WORKING. A little touch-base later asking “are you ok”, “are we ok”, or similar, can be enough to show that you care about the other person. As a few final thoughts on business arguments, remember these simple points:

Try not to get into an argument in the first place.

Don’t react, THINK INSTEAD.

Use any (or a combination) of the ten tools above.

Never compromise on your values in an argument – EVER.

Finally, remember it is unlikely to be life-and-death critical, so treat it as such, and remember to do two essential things to keep it real – BREATHE and SMILE :) 

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