Lincoln vs. Douglas

We may often find ourselves in situations where we are on the opposite side of a particular position that is being advocated by someone else. At this point we have a choice to make. Do we speak up or keep quiet? Obviously it all depends upon the circumstances and whether or not a discussion is actually merited. I enjoy a good healthy debate but have learned that it’s not necessary to go to the mat every time someone is espousing a point of view that is different than my own. The bottom line – what is to be gained from engaging in such a discussion? Will I persuade the other person to change his or her mind? Are there others who might be listening that I want to influence? In many cases, I decide to forgo the debate when I’m reasonably certain that the other person is entrenched in his or her point of view and there is no one else around to influence.

Let’s assume that we do want to convince others to adopt our perspective on an issue. How we go about doing this will be a real test of our skill in communications and diplomacy. If you ever watch political debates pay close attention . . . and then do just the opposite of what the politicians do. Often they obfuscate, make ad hominem attacks, avoid the question and use emotional appeals. There is a much better way.

Stick to the facts. Utilizing a fact-based approach to construct our own arguments is both rational and appropriate. Of all the classes I took in college my hands-down favorite was Logic. Connecting the dots with logic supported by well-sourced data is powerful and persuasive. And my Logic professor always used to say that a clear indication that you are winning a logical argument was when the other party resorts to playing on emotions. In addition to supporting our own thesis with facts, we can also de-construct the opposing point of view in similar fashion.

Depersonalize. As we debate an issue it’s easy to become passionate about our position and allow things to get personal. Watching our words is critically important at this point. Consider the following statement. “I just don’t understand why you are being so hard-nosed with your position.” How do you suppose the other party is going to react? It would be easy to become defensive if you are on the receiving end of this barb. How does this sound? “Help me understand the ABC Company’s position.” The word “you” has been replaced with the ABC Company. And the statement avoids an inflammatory tone.

Be respectful. Above all, we should maintain a level of friendliness during our discussion. Being respectful of the other party is paramount. Belittling and mocking statements do us no favors. Others who may be listening will be turned off by this approach. We are better served by acknowledging that the opposing point of view has merit even if we disagree. For example, we might say, “John, I understand that you believe that we should invest more marketing dollars in print media and I’m sure that we would get results. On the other hand, four independent studies have shown that the ROI for an investment in social media is five times higher than with print media.” Here, we’ve been respectful of John and his position, and then de-constructed his argument with our own facts.

Debate is healthy and productive when engaged in a positive manner. Using facts, avoiding becoming personal and maintaining respect are the best ways to persuade others to accept and adopt the position that we advocate.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.


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