“I don't mind arguing with myself. It's when I lose that it bothers me.” ~ Richard Powers
When we make persuasive presentations or write proposals, our gut reaction is usually to hide any flaws in our logic and minimize any doubts the audience may have in our appeals.
- “DON’T mention that our proposed plan costs twice what we are spending today.”
- “Maybe they won’t notice the flaw in our process…”
- “I’m so worried that they will see how flimsy parts of this proposal are…”
But what if, instead of dancing around the audience’s issues, you shine a spotlight on them? What if you took the words right out of their mouths and then provided a compelling answer to their doubts? That’s the art of counter-arguing.
Arguments vs. Counterarguments
First, let’s get agree on our terminology.
The thesis or appeal is what you are making to your audience. For example, “choose Vendor A because they are most cost-effective,” or “allocate $40,000 to our budget because we need to hire another person.”
The argument is the objection or doubt that your audience will have about your appeal: “We worked with Vendor A before and their customer service stinks!” or “Every department wants an extra $40,000!”
The counter-argument is argument YOU make against the audience’s argument. Your objection to the audience’s objection.
The Formula for Counter-Arguing
Anticipate the arguments
“How can I anticipate the arguments in the room? I’m not a fortune teller!”
You can uncover your audience’s likely arguments by asking yourself which parts of the idea you would question yourself, reviewing the ideas with another manager, or meeting with an audience member before the big presentation to see what they might object to.
Consider these questions:
- What would be the hardest-to-answer question or doubt that might be presented by your group?
- Is there anything about your logic or process that is questionable?
- Would anyone have issues with you or your team?
- Are there specific people in the room who will have individual concerns? Territories to defend?
Formulate your answers
Once you’ve identified the most likely arguments, write out your responses. Answer the doubt the best you can and note all the benefits of going forward in the way you’ve proposed. Talk about what could be gained and what losses might be avoided if the group cooperates.
“You might be thinking…”
You can use this phrase to present your arguments. For instance, if you anticipate some push-back from the group when recommending Vendor A, you might say this:
You might be thinking, “We’ve worked with Vendor A before, and their customer service was horrible!” And I agree. Our calls were not returned in a timely manner by the account manager they assigned to us, and we suffered for it. That was two years ago. Since that time, Vendor A has replaced that account manager, added 9 more customer service representatives, and is now doing a much better job. Just to make sure, I called some references they gave me and other clients have not had an issue with Vendor A’s customer service over the last year.
Anticipating the group’s general arguments gives you several benefits:
- You will feel less anxious because you will be better-prepared for tough issues
- You will head off any issues before they become obstacles to your meeting purpose.
- You’ll earn credibility as someone who can anticipate and face the hard issues, instead of sweeping them under the rug.
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