Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Sure, numerous conversations and meetings benefit from subtlety and agreement. Yet at least as many conversations and meetings require all involved to be able to argue effectively, to candidly speak out, to respectfully tell it as they see it, to challenge conventional wisdom without sugar-coating, and to openly call out mishaps, cowardice, ego-trouble, misguided intentions, or simply an opposing view or unlikely perspective.
So how do you do this thing called ‘arguing effectively’?
1. Objectives must be shared, explained, and understood.
2. Intentions must be constructive and trusted.
3. Substantive debate must be everyone’s priority.
4. Empathy and curiosity must accompany candor and persuasion.
5. Participants must be willing to assume the other person’s position.
6. Participants must distinguish between the person and their opinion.
7. Respectful, straight-talk feedback must be given and received.
8. Dominating, condemning, remaining locked in the past, and attacking someone’s character must not be tolerated.
It is impossible and highly undesirably to eliminate all arguments from conversations and meetings. It is possible to argue respectfully and constructively so you can dive deeper into important topics and clear the air of otherwise suppressed, maybe even toxic thoughts and emotions. All involved need to realize that a lack of agreement does not have to equal conflict, and that deeper connections, smarter solutions, and stronger commitments result from expressing, respecting, and seriously considering a contrarian’s point of view.
Earlier this month I was fortunate to provide a professional development clinic for members of TeamWomen MN, a great group of women that share one goal: to inspire, encourage, and support each other in reaching their full potential. My talk was on women brains and behaviors, focusing on practical tips to better manage up, down, and sideways. There are six thoughts from this talk that I’d like to share with you:
1. How well you lead up is an indication of your potential to become a senior leader in your organization. Your ability to demonstrate initiative, persuasion, persistence, and passion in combination with your ability to overcome obstacles and promote resilience is a critical measure of senior leadership. You will need to be able to influence your boss and you want to give people a compelling reason to believe in what you stand for.
2. High-potential women tend to be over-mentored and under-sponsored. Acquire and utilize high-positioned sponsors. These are people who will advocate for new roles and projects. They advocate for your promotion and help you plan your moves. They endorse your authority publicly.
3. It’s on your plate to learn to get your point across and to communicate persuasively with your superiors, your team members, and your peers.
4. Understand your leaders and your company: their strategic business objectives, their personal goals, needs, and fears, and their styles. Adjust your messages and style accordingly while remaining loyal to your core objectives and values.
5. Assert yourself with tact and provide feedback with tact: Be clear and brief, focus on what’s relevant, what’s practical, and what’s helpful.
6. Establish trust by following through on commitments, by making yourself available, by demonstrating the ability to think and act for ‘the boss’, and by taking initiative, acting decisively, and sharing credit.
As Michael Useem, professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania once said: “We might fear how our superior will respond, we might doubt our right to lead up, but we all carry a responsibility to do what we can when it will make a difference.”