· Finding the resolution in a controversy
· Finding the issues inherent in the controversy (3 out of the 4 ways)
· The four types of claims that are made to answer the issues raised
The resolution and issues both ‘flow’ from the controversy, the claims flow from the issues and are analyzed to see if they support the resolution. Graphically, it looks like this:
I mentioned a fourth way to formulate the issues for a given controversy. This method was described by Aristotle. As I mentioned before, I always try to develop issues using two or more methods and this method (the Topoi) is the one I rely on most.
Topos is a Greek word for ‘place’. The plural is topoi and refers to ‘places in the mind’ where questions are kept. There is a story that goes with this, but for now just recognize that this is a method to formulate issues based on the type of claim being made. Again, the four types of claims are:
1 - Claim of Fact – presented as a plain factual statement like “Far more kids are engaged in cheating in school than the teachers think”
For a claim of fact, there are two topoi; 1) ‘How would we know if the claim is true?’ and 2) ‘Have those conditions been met?’ So going to our example (“Far more kids are engaged in cheating in school than the teachers think”), some issues suggested by those topoi are: How many kids are engaged in cheating? How many kids do the teachers think are cheating? How many more would be “Far More” than teachers think, and are that many more cheating?
The degree to which you can answer those questions indicates the strength of your position. NOTE – (this is important) - It is usually NOT PRACTICAL (or even possible) to answer the issues with absolute proof. If it were possible, then there would NOT be a controversy! There are three kinds (and a few subtypes) and we will talk about how you weigh supporting evidence in the coming weeks. For now, just know that there is seldom “incontrovertible evidence” for anything that is controversial in business.
For a claim of definition, there are three topoi; 1) ‘Is the definition relevant?’, 2) ‘Is the definition fair?’, and 3) ‘How do we choose between competing definitions?’ So going to our example (“The kid wasn’t cheating; he was just harmlessly cutting a corner”), some issues suggested by those topoi are: Does it matter if we share a common understanding of what ‘cheating’ is? Is it important not to cheat in school? Is there a difference between ‘cheating’ and ‘cutting corners’? Would the activity that the kid was engaged in constitute what we consider cheating? How are ‘cheating’ and ‘cutting corners’ different? Can we agree on enough differences between ‘cheating’ and ‘cutting corners’ so that we can differentiate between them?
You may see why the topoi are my favorite method – it offers guidance in creating issues. This was always a problem for me when I started out in business. People would say something that didn’t seem quite right, but I never knew what to say to challenge them. Learning the topoi helped me a great deal.
A claim of quality is similar to a claim of definition. It is presumed, however, that we agree on the definition of the quality. If not, then we would handle it like a claim of definition until we agreed on the definition of the quality and then proceed. For a claim of quality, there are three topoi; 1) ‘Is the value true?’, 2) ‘Is the value generally relevant or specifically relevant?’, and 3) ‘How do we choose between competing values?’ So going to our example (“Those teachers are incompetent”), some issues suggested by those topoi are: How do we judge if the teachers meet our definition of incompetent? Are they incompetent in all things, some things, or just in some specific thing that may not be relevant to the resolution? If we characterized their incompetence as ‘stupidity’ or ‘laziness’, would we feel that those (competing) values better describe our perception of them?
Claims of policy are common in business, because we are constantly trying to correct problems or create opportunities. For a claim of policy, there are four topoi; 1) ‘Is there a problem (reason to change from the current state)?’, 2) ‘What is the problem?’, 3) ‘Does the proposal solve the problem?’, and 4) ‘Is the proposal better than the problem?’ So going to our example (“They should allow the kids to work together and share ideas like they’ll have to in the workplace”), some issues suggested by those topoi are: Is there a problem with kids competing? Is there a problem with kids competing in school differently than they will at work? Is competition the problem? Is there enough collaboration going on so that kids learn both working styles? Does allowing kids to collaborate keep them from cheating? Are there other impacts (expense, curriculum, facilities, teacher training, etc.) that would have to change in order to permit collaboration? Will it be worth it?
Now, you know a lot more about questioning claims made by people; how to categorize those claims, and how to define the key issues needed to resolve them. As always, you need to practice these techniques as often as possible until you are doing so automatically. It is critical that you practice when the stakes are low so that you are comfortable if the stakes are raised.
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