Monday, April 21, 2008

5 Powerful Principles to Challenge Arguments

Name: 5 Powerful Principles to Challenge Arguments
Type: Principles
Status: final
Version: 2008-04-21

Gist: to provide a general checklist for the suspicious. The 5 principles show behavioural patters people use to make you do things in their favour, but not necessarily in your favour. Use this on (in alphabetical order) advisors, colleagues, consultants, counsels, managers, salespersons, vendors.

Sources: Scott Berkun: How to Detect Bullshit; and my all-time-favourite checklist: 12 Tough Questions by Tom Gilb.

P1) People are uncertain and tend to ignorantly stretch the facts.

  • How do you know?
  • What are your sources? How can I check them?
  • Who told you that?
  • Can you quantify the improvement?

Note: Carefully watch the answerer. If he needs a while, maybe uncomfortably shifting position, there's a good chance he's either making something up or needs time to figure out how to disguise a weak argument.

P2) People with weak arguments often have not made their homework on the topic.

  • What is the counter argument?
  • Who else shares this point of view?
  • What are the risks of this, and what will you do about it?
  • Can you quantify the improvement?
  • How does your idea affect my goals and my budgets?
  • What would make you change your mind?
  • Have we got a complete solution?

Note: As from any facts, one can draw a set of reasonable interpretations, not just one. Everyone with intimate knowledge won't have great difficulties taking a different point of view for a while.

P3) People tend towards urgency when you are asked to make a decision with some hidden consequence.

  • Can I sleep on this?
  • When do we need to have a decision made? Why?
  • I'd like to consult Person A first.
  • Expert B, what do you think?

Note: People pressing ahead may try to throw you off your guard.

P4) People without a clear understanding of their point of view tend to inflate the language used.

  • Please break this in smaller pieces, so I can understand.
  • Explain this in simpler terms, please.
  • I refuse to accept this until me, or someone I trust, fully understands it.
  • Are you trying to say <...>? Then speak more plainly next time, please.

Note: Mark Twain once wrote in a letter to a friend: 'I'm sorry this letter is so long; I didn't have enough time to make it shorter.'

P5) People tend to have stronger arguments if they know someone is present who is hard to deceive.

  • Use your network.
  • Invite colleagues who have worked with these people.

Note: Simply help each other, like your family would do.

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