How To Make A Sound, Effective and Compelling Argument

Well, the election cycle has begun. And with it, comes my constant frustration (you might recall my blogs from 2 years ago) at how our politicians make their arguments, or, more accurately, how they DON’T make their arguments.

But since I’m staying away from politics in this blog, I’m left with a thought on how any of us make an argument for something we believe in.

As sales people, company leaders, and business executives, we must constantly be in argument-making mode. Not “argument” in the sense of aggressiveness, caustic language or a verbal battle. But “argument” in the sense of how we make our point, and bring others around to our way of thinking.

This blog, although long, will help. By the way, I will not get into deductive vs inductive, there’s not enough time for that. This is only a basic course in argument making. 🙂

The Steps To Making A Sound Argument

  1. Introduction. Here you must make your entry into the argument. If you’re making it to an internal team on a new idea, then this is where you calm people down, add some humor, and gently talk about your mission today, of offering your point of view for their consideration. (If it feels like pressure, it won’t work).
  2. Thesis. You should present your thesis upfront. Your thesis is a preview of what your point of view is. If you’re arguing for a new compensation plan, then here is where you say, “The purpose of my discussion today is to ask you to consider my ideas on an improved compensation plan. I will share my ideas with supporting data and ask you, at the end, to share your thoughts.” Also, make sure you share your overriding intent. “My intent here is to make this a better place to work and to attract people who can help us succeed wildly.”
  3. The Presenting Issue. There is ALWAYS a presenting issue to argue against. Something is happening right now that is unacceptable to you. I suggest you have at least 3 main points of the issue, including what might happen if it goes unresolved. You can present data that compels change. “Currently, we have a problem. It shows itself in 3 ways…1,2,3.” If there are reliable costs to current reality, bring them up here.
  4. Solution. Here is where you suggest the solution. If there are many phases to it, then lay it out here. “My solution contains several components…” Have back up or supporting data to each. Don’t over simplify things if it’s a complex issue. But always, talk about the solution by chunking (1, 2, 3).  If the solution has a cost to it, here is where you juxtapose it with the cost of the problem.
  5. Expose Counter Arguments. Shed some light on what others might object to. You control it when you bring up the objections or resistance. Then, point by point, share how you would counter those. Don’t dismiss the objections or personally disparage those having other points of view. Answer them gently.
  6. Close. Politely, gently, but firmly, close. “I hope this has been helpful in having you understand my point of view. I suggest this solution believing that we all have a common aim in our work.” You say this because it can’t feel argumentative to the listener.  You must state some sort of a shared vision for how things could be better if your ideas are adapted.

 Rules of Delivery

Along with the core components of making the argument come some rules for presenting it.

  1. Be nice. I know, the word argument doesn’t sound nice, does it? But the more caustic and demanding you are, the more likely you are to turn your audience off, which isn’t a good thing when asking for help and adaptation.
  2. Be detached. You’ve heard my rants on detachment before, but the truth is the more detached you are, the stronger will be your argument. If you’re too attached to the outcome, you won’t convince everyone, ever. What did the Queen say in Hamlet? “The lady doth protest too much.” (Hamlet, Shakespeare.)
  3. Be flexible. Although you may have some very specific ideas on what should be implemented, this is the beginning of the conversation. Be careful not to turn everyone off to additional discussion. It could be that someone in the audience has an idea that’s even better than yours.
  4. Be intentional. Your intent matters. Makes sure your intent is high – that it isn’t about you getting your way – but that it’s for the common good for your audience.
  5. Be thorough. No one likes a winger. As you think through your main points, try to poke holes in your own argument. If you find a hole, then plug it. The secret here is NOT in the presenting of it, until you have been thorough in your analysis.

Arguments are something we should know how to craft and deliver. Sales leaders need to be excellent at this skill.

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