Defending Yourself

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Some people might think that good ideas will win the day, simply because they’re good ideas. But it’s not that simple. If you’ve got good ideas, you’re going to have to convince people of their value. And you’ll definitely have to defend them against all the people out to criticize or compete with you. It’s a dog eat dog world, as they say, and you want to make sure you’re not the dinner.
So what do you do when you’re in a meeting, you’ve just laid out your plans for a new new marketing strategy, and the guy across the table jumps up and yells that what you’ve suggested is impossible? Well, it starts with attitude. And having the right attitude means being calm, diplomatic, and logical. What you don’t want to do is get dragged into an argument that’s personal, petty, or unproductive.
One way to do that is to reference your organization’s broad mission and goals. Show how your ideas fit with the larger strategy. Say something like, “Well, as an organization we decided to expand our target market, right? I believe my strategy helps us do that.” Referencing broader organizational goals helps to elevate the debate. And elevating the debate means ensuring that the discussion is about ideas, not people. So instead of, “Dave, you always do this and it drives me nuts,” It should be, “I can’t agree with this approach.” Or, instead of, “Com’on Dave, you’re always fixated on cost!” You can try, “I don’t think cost should be our primary concern.” And if you are able to elevate the debate, then what you’ll get in return is not, “John, you must be crazy to think that will work.” Instead, you should get something like this, “John, I think your plan has some problems.” And that makes for a better discussion.
So, if the debate is about ideas, how can you get people on board with yours in the face of criticism? One great way is to use questions. One kind of question is a leading question, one that has an obvious answer. For example, you could say, “Does everybody here agree that we need a really professional and slick ad campaign?” What you’re doing with this kind of question is getting people to nod, to agree, and that’s an attitude they’ll carry over to other things you say. You can
also use negative rhetorical questions. A rhetorical question is one that doesn’t really need an answer. For example, someone might ask, “Don’t you think we need to increase our market share?” Or maybe, “Isn’t a website an important part of any business’s marketing strategy?” Who could answer “no” to those questions?
Now, sometimes people are actually right. You might not like the way they’re criticizing your ideas, but they’re right. So, what’s the logical approach to take? Well, admit it. You might say, “You know, you’ve got a point there.” Or, “Yes, well, the plan does appear to have some problems.” You don’t have to defend your ideas just because they’re yours. Remember, we talked about being logical and elevating the debate. That means you need to give a little too.

But you don’t have to give everything. And you can still concede a point while continuing to defend your idea. I’m talking about the old “yes, but” construction. As in, “Yes, the timeline might be too aggressive, but that’s not a reason to ditch the plan.” Or like this, “You’re right about the colors, but the layout is more important.” By admitting that your opponents are right about something, you’re showing that you think clearly. That you’re logical. And that you don’t stubbornly hold on to your ideas just because they’re yours. And that will bring more people on to your side, and the ideas that you do continue to defend will be stronger.
We’ve talked about staying calm, using logic, and elevating the debate. But this isn’t always easy. People get emotional, they get personal, they get defensive. And sometimes we need to manage other people’s emotions carefully when defending our own ideas. That’s what we’ll talk about next time


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