Later this year, I am conducting a webinar on the art of dispute as a part of the Excellence in Leadership series.  If you have ever been in a situation where you knew that your opponent was wrong but couldn’t effectively argue his point of view, you know why this is a highly valuable skill.  This morning, I was jotting down some most salient points for this session and thought that I should share one with you today.

We make decisions on a daily basis, many times a day: how to get to Memphis, what to have for dinner, what to wear, which espresso maker to buy and so on. Similarly in a business settings, people make operating and investment decisions: which project to select, how to enter a new market, who to hire, and so on. Why doing so, in life and in business, decisions are influenced by recommenders – friends, family, experts, employees, superiors, vendors, consultants, and others.

Although not a debate per se, a recommendation is similar to it in that the other party offers an argument to support their point of view. A decision maker listens to recommendations and makes a decision.

Here is my point. Never ever accept a recommendation or an argument that you don’t understand.

I see a lot of people in a lot of organizations all charged with making decisions. It’s a commonplace occurence that they make decisions to the tune of millions of dollars based on recommendations they don’t understand: a financial workup, results of a marketing survey, sales projections, etc. It only so happens that the financial workup contains errors, the methodology behind the marketing survey is flawed and the sales projections are based on best case scenario assumptions.

The resulting decision cannot possibly be sound. The result: wasted resources, lost time, overlooked opportunities.

I think the following is in order when listening to what recommenders have to say:

– if you don’t understand something, ask for an explanation. It is not a weakness but a sign of a confident decision maker

– probe and examine the recommender’s data and assumptions carefully

– understand the recommender’s interests. What do they stand to gain from your following their recommendation? Does it influence their recommendation?

– in cases where you are not in a position to validate an argument (e.g. a financial cost-benefit analysis), ask an authority on the subject to do it for you.

– never let yourself to be forced into the thinking that there is only one alternative to be considered

– think critically and ask critical questions.

In my observation, accepting the argument that is not well understood is even more of a problem in a group setting, such as a meeting. There is an implicit pressure to agree and no one want to look ignorant by asking for an explanation. (Since everyone else is quiet, they MUST understand it. I don’t want to look stupid, so I will pretend that I do too.)

Don’t let this to happen to you. Ask questions, make the right decisions, and thrive!

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