Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Art of Losing

I lost an argument yesterday.

Essentially, I proposed "to-may-to," a peer countered "to-mah-to," I rebutted with some additional facts, and the boss chimed in with "I like to-mah-to."

My first instinct was to rebut again and make my points again but stronger. But my experience and executive overrides kicked in and I reminded myself of an old adage "Before you can influence others, you must first allow yourself to be influenced by them." This has led to my own adage: "Never squander an opportunity to lose an argument." Losing can be good; it gains you equity with the team if you do it gracefully. Here are some points that help me when I need to lose (or when I'm going to lose anyway).
  1. Any time you disagree with another expert, there is a 50% chance you are wrong.
  2. Even if you are right, any time you disagree with an expert, there is a 50% chance that what you're arguing about has no practical significance for the user.

    Let's stop there for a moment. That means there is only a 25% chance that if you continue an argument and win, you will do any good. I think point #2 is generous in assigning a 50% probability that there is any efficacy in the outcome. If two experts disagree, either proposition will probably work. Think about the bottom line impact some of these disputes have or don't have. The answer should be a gauge as to how long the argument should go on. For example, how much will your company's profitability be affected if you use "e-mail" or "email"  in the UI? In this example, flip a coin but don't flip it too high. Every second you wait for it to land is losing money.

  3. Give the other side the last word. Losing with an "OK, but..." forfeits any equity the loss would have gained you.
Here is the truth that took way too long for me to learn. Your value to the company (and your likelihood of surviving the next layoff--and yes, there WILL be a next layoff) is not determined by how smart you are perceived to be. It is determined by how effective you are perceived in facilitating other people doing smart things.

Truth is, most people do not remember who made specific points in a meeting. More times than not I hear the wrong person being credited with a particular statement. What people will remember, however, is how well the teams you are on end up doing.

Don't seek a reputation of being the "guy with the answers." Instead, become the "guy who initiates and facilitates productive conversations."

And many times that means both making the initial proposal and then graciously losing the argument that ensues.

If I weren't so naturally talented at making the wrong proposal, I'd probably have to do it on purpose just to get ahead.


Locke_NA said...

Hi Mike,
This post reminded me of a Ted Talk given by Kathyrn Schultz, "On Being Wrong". You just might enjoy it.
Be well,

Miranda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Miranda said...

I made a point too forcefully the other day, which naturally didn't receive a good response. My instinct was to rephrase and defend my point, but I managed not to. The old adage that came to mind for me was "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."