Monday, November 17, 2008

What Makes You Say That?

Some of you have been practicing the last few techniques I’ve posted – GOOD FOR YOU. Communications is something that you practice frequently so that when you need it, you are confident in your abilities. One friend likened it to CPR in this way – if, when you need the skills, you have only an academic understanding and are under-practiced, you may choose not to use them for fear of doing it “wrong”. I suppose that is true, and I salute you that are practicing and sending me email.

A common question asked has been “What if one’s emotions boil over during a talk?” Some conversations can have a high emotional content, and by using the right skills the CONVERSATION needn’t become emotional – needn’t cause defensiveness. Right now, we are exploring the model for a straightforward business discussion and examining its parts and protocols as if neither side becomes emotional while the topic at hand is being discussed. In later lessons, once we have some mastery of these skills, we will examine how to conduct a more “charged” discussion.

So far, we have:
- Identified the underlying resolution in a controversy
- Categorized the resolution into one of four categories of claims
- Learned four ways to identify the issues that need to be addressed to support the resolution

Today we will learn what to do with those issues, and what work they are expected to do. We will be building on the examples we have been using all along (“Far more kids are engaged in cheating in school than the teachers think”). For the moment assume that the key questions (issues) can be asked straight out, without any “shaping” as we might if there were some emotional charge associated with them.

Let’s agree to a limited set of issues that would be required to support this claim.
- 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?
- Are that many more kids cheating?

We would ask the claimant (that is the person making the claim) one of these questions and expect some kind of answer. The answer needs to be based on something and we call that basis “evidence”. There are three kinds of evidence that we will listen for; Objective Evidence, Social Consensus, and Credibility of the Speaker.

- Objective evidence is anything that can be examined further. Statistics, documents, testimony, opinions, and examples are all types of objective evidence. Evidence of this type can be examined and questioned until it is accepted.
- Social consensus is a belief that can act as a fact. Common knowledge, shared values, previously established facts, and stipulations are all types of social consensus. Evidence of this type must be agreed to by both sides before it has any real power.
- Credibility can substitute for evidence and we allow it to do so frequently. If the person has a good track record for being honest, is an authority on the subject, can point to a clear basis for their conclusion, does not have a bias or vested interest, and if other credible sources agree with them, it is very likely that they are credible.

Using our example, let’s imagine that we’ve asked the claimant “How many kids are engaged in cheating?” Let’s imagine that they respond with “Practically every single one of them”. We ask “how do you know that?” and their response is, “I just know it”. They are asking you to accept their credibility as evidence. So look back at the criteria for credibility; track record, expertise, clarity of basis, bias, etcetera. You would have to ask questions about those items before you could accept their credibility as evidence.

What if they would have responded differently? Let’s imagine that they respond with “Practically every single one of them”. We ask “how do you know that?” and their response is, “Everyone knows that”. They are now asking you to accept Social consensus as evidence. So look back at the criteria for social consensus; common knowledge, shared values, previously established facts, stipulations, etcetera. Did you stipulate (or are you willing to stipulate) that ‘practically every single student’ is cheating? If not, could you find it to be a widely held belief? Is it a previously established fact? If not, it isn’t suitable evidence and you would reject the claim pending stronger evidence.

Finally, let’s imagine that they respond with “Practically every single one of them”. We ask “how do you know that?” and their response is, “I have a survey here that shows it”. They are now asking you to accept statistics as evidence. This is a form of Objective evidence. So what does this mean? It means you can examine the data further if you wish. If you don’t accept it at face value, you should ask a few questions about the survey to see if it is relevant. Is it from the same population of students that we were originally talking about or a different population? Is it from a prison school located in Madagascar in 1760?? Is there a sufficient sample size and a sufficient variety and range of respondents? Can it be fact checked? Can the source data be reviewed?

These rules can be applied as stringently as is needed to guide the course of the discussion. For instance, if this was a discussion about something very risky (“should we launch the shuttle in cold weather?”), you would have a higher standard of evidence than for something that was low risk. If you have done some independent checking and you feel you know about how many students are cheating and the claimant has a similar number, you may accept it as Common Knowledge and move on. If your numbers are significantly different, you may accept their number based on their credibility or survey. Or you may reject it until a number is found that is mutually agreeable based in the evidence.

You should understand now that in order to engage in a critical discussion, the tools used are questions and answers. The answers are called ‘reasons’ and the process is called ‘reasoning’ – exchanging reasons back and forth until we can agree on one. You should also recognize that if YOU are the one making the claims, you would be well-advised to use the Topoi to analyze the issues surrounding your claims and be prepared with some compelling evidence. This is how you develop that good track record required for using your own credibility as evidence.

Insist on great business results! Go to Pathfinder Communication

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