The Language of Success: The Confidence to Say What You Mean and Mean What You Say in Business and Life
Kim Wilkerson and Alan Weiss; BEP 2015
In my first decade of “adulthood,” I was convinced that if your opinion was different from mine, then I was right and you were wrong. And I was more than happy to debate you while professing and insisting on the merits of my “rightness.” In my second decade, under the same circumstances, I still thought I was right and you were wrong. The difference was, I didn’t necessarily have to tell you that you were wrong and I certainly didn’t need to initiate or engage in a debate. I was ok with just knowing I was right. In my third decade, I finally evolved to realize that in matters of opinion, perception, and interpretation (versus hard core facts), it’s not a matter of right or wrong. It’s merely a matter of different. Different didn’t equate to being right (good) or wrong (bad). Different just equaled different.
This very revelation changed the way I engaged with others. In the face of debate, I no longer led with being insistent, adamant, and unrelenting, Instead, I first became curious. As a master of heated debate (from 0 to 60 in mere seconds), I stepped back and became curious, exploratory, and inquisitive. I started asking questions instead of making bold, determined statements.
Being curious and inquisitive in this sense doesn’t mean you should become a timid soul with no opinion and then recoil at the very thought of debate. It means, if you understand the “what, how, and why” of your position AND of the other person’s position, you pave the way for the following to surface:
- You may or may not gain new insight that influences your own opinion or perspective. But, either way, it’s worth exploring.
- You may find that you have more agreement and common ground than you expected or realized (such as, you may have agreement on expected outcomes, but not on execution, or visa versa).
- You better understand the other person’s perspective and this best positions you to make your case (influence others).
In our discussion on negotiations (Chapter 5), we are explicit that the goal is to create a win-win outcome, not win-lose, or lose-lose. A similar goal is true with debate. As a leader, you want to create a win-win even in the midst of a polarized debate. It shouldn’t be a “zero sum game,” where another’s losses create your gain. That is ultimately a lose-lose proposition.