Part of the job of being a manager is disagreeing with other people. Look, their ideas may be wrong and you are the person who is going to have to step up and let them know that they are wrong. As you can well imagine, this does not always go over well. This is where arguments come from. Arguments are a natural part of life. However, knowing how to argue is one of the key manager skills that we need to have. However, since none of us have had any manager training in how to do this, most of us do it incorrectly.
How We Argue Incorrectly
The way managers tend to disagree points to a bigger problem, one that affects every organization, every business, and, at times, every one of us: It’s easier to focus more on the “quality” of the individual who has an idea or proposes a change than on the quality of the idea itself. By reflexively criticizing the messenger, managers fail to evaluate the idea on its own merits. Sometimes that means placing too much importance on the actual message. Other times, not enough.
Either way, that means managers fail to engage in a dialogue that might help turn a seemingly bad idea into a good one. It’s natural to like an idea more if a manager likes the person who proposes it. Just like it’s natural to dismiss an idea if a manager doesn’t particularly like the person who proposes it.
The problem is that managers naturally add extra weight to advice we hear from the people we admire and respect. And we all naturally subtract a little weight from advice we hear from people we don’t admire, don’t respect, or don’t work with. What really matters is the fundamental value of an idea. What matters is the discussion that an idea sparks. What matters is the quality of an idea, the quality of the counter-arguments, the quality of the back-and-forth that turns what might seem like a bad idea into something not only possible but valuable. But that can never happen if a manager doesn’t listen to, consider, and discuss the idea itself — not the person who proposes it.
The Correct Way To Argue
Most of the people you encounter on a daily basis aren’t recognized as thought leaders. So you don’t automatically hang on their every word. But you should always take the time to listen — especially if you intend to respond to their ideas, their proposals, or their suggestions. Just as you should never reflexively embrace a message because you admire the messenger, nor should you reflexively reject a message because you discount the messenger.
Opinions, advice, information — it’s all data, and the more data you have, the better. You need to strip away the framing you apply to the source. Remove the setting or environment. Consider the advice, the information, or the opinion solely on the basis of its merits. Yes, the quality of the source matters, but ultimately the quality of the information, and its relevance to your unique situation, matters a lot more.
The more you listen, and the more people you are willing to listen to, then the more data you have at your disposal to make smart decisions. Put aside the messenger and focus on the message. Keep in mind that you don’t have to agree, but you should always try to listen.
What All Of This Means For You
Part of being a manager is disagreeing with the people who make up our teams and with whom we interact with. They will at times have ideas that we flat out do not agree with. When this happens, we need to speak up and let them know how we feel. However, they are generally not going to just roll over and agree with us – they are going to push back. They are going to disagree with our disagreement. This is when we may find ourselves in an argument. There’s no problem with this except for the fact that most of us don’t know how to argue correctly.
Our biggest problem when it comes to arguing is that we tend to focus on the wrong thing. What we do is we focus more on the “quality” of the individual who has an idea or proposes a change than on the quality of the idea itself. It’s natural to like an idea more if a manager likes the person who proposes it. But that can never happen if a manager doesn’t listen to, consider, and discuss the idea itself — not the person who proposes it. You should never reflexively reject a message because you discount the messenger. Consider the advice, the information, or the opinion solely on the basis of its merits. The more you listen then the more data you have at your disposal to make smart decisions.
We can become better arguers. What we need to learn to do is to focus on the issue that we are arguing about and not the people who are stating the issue. It is only by doing this that we are going to be able to find ways to change people’s minds. If we can show them how we view the issue and why we see it differently than they do, then we have a chance of perhaps getting them to see things the way that we do. Alternatively, perhaps we’ll end up changing our mind. No matter how the argument turns out, we’ll be in a better place if we can learn how to argue correctly.
– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™
Question For You: What should a manager do when you realize that you are starting an argument?
Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
A managers we are always looking for the next great job. No matter if it is with the firm that we are currently working for or if it requires us to switch firms, finding a better job, perhaps with more pay or a better title, is something that we are using our manager skills to look for. However, once we get that next job, the reality may not live up to what our expectations were. When we find ourselves in a situation like this, what should we do?