Sunday, October 4, 2009

Practicing Advocacy

I have said many times on these pages that there are TWO types of conflict to handle during a critical discussion; Affective conflict (i.e. personality clashes or cultural conflict) and Cognitive conflict (disagreement about a topic). For example, let’s say you are involved in a discussion with someone about which sport is superior – baseball or football. You go back and forth, explaining your position on YOUR favorite sport and the other person does the same.

IF you find yourself disagreeing based on the EVIDENCE that is presented, then you are likely engaged in a COGNITIVE disagreement – that is, you are unpersuaded by the facts under discussion. If, however, you are in one of those situations in which can’t be persuaded by ANYTHING the other side says because you don’t like or can’t trust them, you are experiencing an AFFECTIVE disagreement. Your inability to accept the other point of view is based on the PRESENTER and not the facts.

You will certainly find yourself dealing with both kinds of conflict, and mastering them both is important to being a good communicator. I have dedicated many of the articles I have written to dealing with AFFECTIVE conflict, and have developed and published the model that I call THE SCORE in order to help you deal with it. There are TWO models for COGNITIVE conflict. One is a collaborative model that I call Inductive Inquiry (or “SPIRAL” model). One that I have NOT shared is a model for conducting ADVOCACY.

I have spent a lot of time writing about Advocacy vs. Collaboration, and have said that Advocacy is the model with which we are most familiar. That is one reason that I have concentrated on teaching the COLLABORATIVE model – the fact that it isn’t generally understood. The other reason is that, between the two models, the COLLABORATIVE model is generally the most appropriate in business. It is the best one for developing solutions and getting answers when the information to base good decisions on are hard to find or not well vetted.

There ARE good times to use an Advocacy model, though, and I am going to dedicate the next few newsletters to discussing them.

Advocacy means just what you think it does. You ADVOCATE a given perspective over any competing perspectives. This means you are ready to persuade people to adopt this perspective over other perspectives, and defend it from competing perspectives. It also means you will publically demonstrate that competing perspectives to be inferior in some important characteristics. This CAN be done collaboratively, but it generally is not – it is generally done as contest to see what idea gets adopted.

When would we use such a model?

- In a command and control situation when we must all conform to a given course of action and “buy-in” isn’t a big consideration.

- When there is one “expert” on the topic and other opinions are not really competitive because they are not credible (they lack expertise).

-In an emergency when something must be done immediately and there is a single person in charge.

Like I said, these situations indicate suboptimal business conditions, but I know for a fact that the Advocacy model is used frequently. Fortunately, once you are trained a little, you will be far better equipped to participate in these discussions than many who feel that Advocacy is the best model to use. In fact, students that become competent in Advocacy generally find that others are very willing to begin collaborating with them rather than just get shut down!

Over the next few weeks, I will cover all of the elements of the Advocacy model. For this week, I will describe them.

1) Presenting a perspective
     - Developing a strong perspective
     - Getting others on your side
     - Presenting facts
     - Presenting a Strong Conclusion

2) Attacking a competing perspective
     - Gauging the opinions of others in order to create a productive attack
     - Attacking the evidence
     - Attacking the conclusion

3) Defending your perspective
     - Defending evidence
     - Defending your conclusion
     - Going in for the kill
     - Saving face

As we move through the elements above over the next few weeks, you will learn how to make your perspective look like the only logical choice and expose weaknesses in any opposition. In the event that you are attacked, you learn to defend. In the case that you are overcome by a competing perspective, you will learn to save face.

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