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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

How to Start an Argument
You Don’t Care About Winning

great-leaders-argue-but-dont-winGreat leaders need to learn how to start an argument they don’t care about winning.

If your leadership team never argues or debates, that’s a good sign of harmony.

False harmony. It takes time and energy to argue well. It’s easier to avoid it. But the best leaders don’t—they ignite it.

When we think of harmony, we think of calm. But if arguments are rare in your organization, that calm you’re creating just might be the calm before the storm.

It’s healthy to challenge one another’s thinking. It forces you to own your opinion well enough to make a case for it (even if you’re wrong). The final decision will be a better one if you hear more viewpoints and a greater number of options.

Teams need to learn how to argue effectively and be able to walk away with no hurt feelings or long-term damage. Yes, learn how. An argument doesn’t need to be loud or mean-spirited. As the leader, you should set the tone for productive arguing. Enter every argument prepared to state your viewpoint, without worrying about whether you win the argument. Be clear and provocative—because your goal is not to win, but to get others to express their viewpoints, whether they match yours or not. 

In the beginning, if productive arguing hasn’t been your culture, you may have to prod or cajole people into the debate, into expressing a contrary point of view. Give them space and time to do that. If there’s a lot of reluctance, break them into smaller groups the first few times you do this; when the smaller groups report to the full group, their contrary view will have become anonymous.

If your purpose is not to win, but to bring out other views and options, then be careful how you respond. Be interested, curious, and warm, so that people see how much you welcome differing thoughts. Ask questions to learn more, not to challenge (if the viewpoint deserves to be challenged, others will do it for you!).

While being disagreeable is rarely if ever helpful, disagreeing is a decision-making strategy leaders should embrace. Go ahead—disagree with me now. Use the comments area below.

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Topics: leadership