Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Pound the Facts, Not the Table

Have you been involved in discussions where people relate stories with high emotional content that may get you charged up and ready to jump on board with them, only to later hear facts come out that undermine the emotional impulse and make you feel foolish for jumping to conclusions that were not supported by the facts? At the end of such an episode, you generally feel taken in and mislead. Such episodes will most often undermine the feeling of trust you may have had for the person making the emotional appeal (see also Trust Me, I’m Not Like The Others!).

There's an old adage among lawyers that says, "If you have the facts on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table!" The approach in business, at least inside a company, is not by design an adversarial system as is the practice of law, and pounding the table is not appreciated and will almost never get you what you want. It is far more effective to convince people with facts and logic, and not with emotion and feelings.

Emotions are often transitory. You may get swept up in the moment. “Win this one for the team!” may stir the emotions and incite actions, but if those actions turn out to be unwarranted or even unlawful, you will feel abashed and ashamed to have been taken in. Political and sporting events are often loaded with high emotions and strong feelings, but facts and logic are often missing in action.

Facts, on the other hand, are not transitory, and facts are stubborn things. You may be entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Facts don’t change when you change your opinion. Facts won’t be impressed by an emotional display or presentation. Facts just are.  Logic plays into this as well. A well presented argument based on facts and logic can easily disembowel an argument based on emotion and feelings that is not backed by facts or logic. In the heat of the moment this may be difficult to realize, but a reasoned assessment will always favor facts and logic.

Some examples:
  • Would you want a loved one to receive a medical treatment based on an emotional argument only to find out afterwards that the treatment did irreversible damage that would have been obvious if you had all the facts in advance? No, you want to make an informed decision based on facts, logic, research and whatever other information you can find before you make a potentially life altering decision, especially if it involves a loved one or yourself.
  • Would you embark on a trip not knowing how to get to your destination or the best method of travel? If it’s a short distance away and you’ve been there before, maybe you’ll simply jump in your car and drive. But if it’s not, you don’t just jump in your car and start driving, even if you have a GPS. You look at where you want to go, see how much time you have, look at alternative means of travel, evaluate the cost of the different means of travel, see how much money you’ll need, and do the many other steps required to make a rational choice. Emotion should not drive the decision, even if you’re feeling emotional. You need to take some time to think.

So how does this relate to you in your work life?

You may believe in your heart that a particular course of action is the right thing to do, but what you believe is simply not enough. Another person on your team may believe as strongly as you in the opposite course of action. Determining who is right and who is wrong is where facts and logic come in.

Make your case and be prepared to defend it based on a well reasoned logical and fact-based presentation. Make sure what you believe to be the facts are indeed facts and not just someone’s opinion. Verify all of your facts and get independent verification from others.  Make sure your logic makes sense and supports the facts, and again get someone else to validate your logic. Think through your case and all other likely cases. Demonstrate how the facts support your case and why they don’t support the other cases.

If your approach is indeed the most compelling case based on the facts and logic, make it forcefully and logically. Demonstrate by the strength of the facts and logic why yours is the best case. 

Do not undermine or ridicule opposing views. Ridiculing others will only alienate them, and is unnecessary and unwarranted. Let your case rest on its own merits. Instead of ridicule, show where opposing cases do make sense and how elements of those cases may even strengthen your solutions to give an even better and more robust approach. You will want to bring others willingly into your team. Praising them will entice them to join the team for the betterment of all.

You may learn along the way that yours is not the strongest case based on the facts and the logic. If so, be prepared to admit it and throw your support behind the case that does make the most sense. You will be seen as a stronger person if you can recognize the flaws in your own argument and the strengths in another argument.

The goal of any organization is to develop the best product and the best approach that will lead to success and profits (see also Keep your Eyes on THE GOAL!). A well thought-out and logical plan based on a full understanding of the facts is critical to accomplish this goal. In working toward this goal, remember always to pound the facts and not the table!

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