How to Argue Effectively

I remember a long-ago staff meeting in which I was asked to share my thoughts on a proposal I didn’t much care for.  I knew, though, if I blurted out something like, “I think this is a horrible idea that could potentially debilitate our market share,” I wouldn’t have done myself any favors.

So I kept my emotions in check and learned a valuable lesson about how to make a valid point in a staff meeting that can potentially change the future direction of a particular initiative.

The first step is to remain calm — unemotional, even. Don’t change your facial expression or display body language that shows you disagree with something being said. Simply and politely interject and casually reframe the issue under discussion: “If I may interject here, I think the real question we should be asking ourselves is … ”

Then provide three points supporting your position, and reinforce each one with a fact, statistic, or anecdote: “Why would we want to enter an already overcrowded marketplace with a new product that strays from what we do best? First, we’ll be behind all of the existing manufacturers in the market, and that’s not a place we’re accustomed to being. The latest user surveys suggest we are the go-to brand in all of our product categories; we won’t be with this new one. Do consumers really need or even want another choice? Research shows they already think the market is saturated. Also, some of our current customers might question why we’re moving away from our niche. We’ll be like Coors deciding to sell bottled water in the Nineties.”

Finally, make a recommendation: “I’m in favor of pouring our resources and talent into a new product that will strengthen our current market share and not erode our credibility with consumers.”

If your persuasive tactics are met with skepticism or downright ignored, bring in the heavy artillery: “Do we have data and examples that prove there is a need for the type of product you want to develop?”

If your targets are unable to come up with satisfactory answers, great. Your work here is done. But if they engage your artillery with their own, inquire about the source of that information. Perhaps the firm used to gather market research has been the target of other companies regarding its questionable data gathering.

This process works in non-meeting situations, too. Consider the people who work at a Kia dealership and need to convince BMW loyalists that Kia’s K900 luxury model (with a base price of $50,000) is an overall better value than that 528i sedan they’re driving now. Those salespeople don’t want to waste their time and energy talking about Kia’s lengthy and successful tradition of making mainstream, economy-friendly cars; they must focus on the fact that Kia is a luxury automobile maker, too, and emphasize that from visual, drivability and technological perspectives, the K900 compares favorably to the 528i. But add in options, and you’ll be paying a lot more to outfit that Bimmer with what comes standard on the K900.

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