What are you arguing about?

By | February 26, 2009

I love watching/analyzing people argue, including with myself.  It is the key attribute of human civilization.  We all have points of view and opinions. I have thought deeply about the key differences people have and how to deal with them.  In the end, we all want to “win” the argument and get our way.  So the real question is, “How do I win the argument?”  My answer is in a few parts, but the first and most important part is: What are you arguing about?  Here are some of the answers:

  1. The Facts  (a.k.a The Assumptions)
  2. The Priorities (a.k.a Our Values)
  3. The Expected Outcome (based on previous experience)
  4. The Process (a.k.a The Pecking Order)
  5. Individual Personalities

Often it is a combination of these things.  When faced with an argument, do a quick sketch on a napkin of how you and your nemisis differ on these issues.  In fact, you can even ask them to participate.  (Not in a lame way, but rather say, “We are clearly not on the same page.  I’d like to learn more about your point of view, specifically…”)

The Facts
I find that this is one of the most common reasons for an argument.  I think something is True and my opponent believes that it is False.  This is a key difference that cannot be fixed by arguing.  You need to nail down the facts and assumptions.  Working off different facts will lead reasonable people to different outcomes.  Example:  “Iraq is building weapons of mass destruction.”   Without verification, the argument over whether to do something is fruitless.

The Priorities
We can’t have it all.  Why is one thing more important than another?  Should we invest in support or invest in QA or Sales?  Different people are going to value different ideas more than others.  If two reasonable parties differ on values, then they will never agree on the course of action.  This is one of the most powerful arguments.  Democrats and Republicans have different priorities and different values, so they espouse different plans based on those values.

The Expected Outcome
I thind that so many arguments stem from the amateur psychology that we all engage in.  How will people react?  What will they think?  What will they do?   If I think a person will HATE what you are doing and you think they will LOVE what you are doing then we are at a severe impass.  Should we negotiate with enemy states?  How will the world react?  Should the politician apologize or deny?  How will people react?  This way out of this dilema is to test, test, test.  Get a better understanding of what people ACTUALLY do and you can extrapolate.  This is why polling is so important to a politician.

The Process
Who is “supposed” to make the decision?  Did they follow the rules/procedures?  Some people are obsessed about rules/procedures.  If someone is arguing against you, you have to consider that they just don’t like the WAY you are making the decision, not the decision itself.  Additionally, that person might feel slighted, that it is THEIR decision to make, not yours.  Even if they agree with you, they will argue against because it is their turf. Be sensitive to this as it can turn quickly into the next variety.

Individual Personalities
“I just don’t like the cut of his jib”.  So many decisions are based on personalities.  Like or dislike.   Try not to create enemies.  Be open and honest and not defensive.  Treat others the way they like to be treated, not how YOU like to be treated.  Watch out for revenge decisions.  Someone might argue against you purely as revenge for a previous slight.

This isn’t an exhaustive list and people have probably wirtten nice books on the subject.  However, my goal here is to make you think about decisions.  Decisions, after all, are design.  And if you want the best user experience, you need to work with people to make decisions.  You need to argue.  Know this battlefield well and you will end up with a better user experience.

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