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Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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The Art Of The Polite Argument In Business

Effective arguing is an essential skill that requires preparation, an understanding of the opponent's perspective, and the ability to stay focused. Make your voice heard, even without shouting! Make your presence felt, without screaming. Make your points accepted, without hurting. After all, in our lives, we need to make our point, and not enemies

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Politeness and argument aren't a contradiction. Effective arguing involves understanding the opponent's perspective and finding common ground. The ability to argue effectively is a life skill and can help achieve goals.

As Homo Sapiens, we comprise just 0.01 per cent of the biomass (measured basis carbon), while the animal kingdom has just 0.4 per cent, with the bulk being trees (82 per cent) and tiny bacteria (13 per cent). Yet humans dominate and impact the world significantly. The societal context expects humans to constantly influence and impact others around them. Influencing is the ability to sway or shape the thoughts, feelings, or actions of others, and involves persuasion and communication skills. To impact is to drive a certain outcome, a lasting effect. Influencing and impacting are important in our daily lives, including the workplace. Rather it is a life skill.

The ability to argue effectively can help one achieve one’s goals and make one’s voice heard. However, effective arguing is not just about winning, but also about understanding the other person's perspective and finding common ground. Effective engagement, be it in business, politics or in one’s personal life should have the ability of sharing of one’s views with others, and equally being receptive in receiving the views of others. The ability to ‘agreeing to disagree’ with each other’s views is a great business skill.

In the traditional Indian Nyaya system, also known as the Nyaya-Vaisheshika philosophy, logic and arguments were valued. It is one of the six classical Indian systems of philosophy and considered to be the oldest Indian system of logic and epistemology. The Nyaya Sutras, which are attributed to the ancient Indian philosopher Gautama, form the foundation of this system. The Nyaya system is known for its emphasis on critical thinking and logical reasoning, and it has had a significant influence on Indian philosophy and education. One of the core principles of the Nyaya system is that knowledge is acquired through perception, inference, comparison, and testimony. The Nyaya system also lays out a system of logic, which includes the syllogism, which is a method of logical reasoning that is still used today.

It would be worth keeping the following in mind: 

*Gather all the facts: When preparing to argue, it is essential to gather all available facts and evidence to support your position. This will add credibility to your argument. Additionally, it is essential to anticipate the arguments that your opponent is likely to make and be prepared with your views on those. 

*Emotional intelligence is key to effective arguing: It is essential to be aware of your own emotions and those of your opponent. Emotions can often get in the way of logical reasoning, so it is important to manage your emotions and stay calm and focused. It is also important to be aware of your opponent's emotions and to respond with empathy and understanding. By acknowledging and addressing the emotional underpinnings of an argument, you can often defuse the situation and move towards a more productive conversation.

*Be respectful and courteous: Even when we disagree with someone, it is important to treat them with respect and courtesy. This means avoiding personal attacks, name-calling, and other disrespectful behaviours. 

*Use language that is clear and concise: When making an argument, it is important to use language that is clear and concise. Avoid using jargon or technical language that may be difficult for your opponent to understand. 

*Choose your battles: When arguing, it is also important to choose your battles. Not every point in an argument is worth fighting over, and it is essential to decide which issues are most important to you. When listening to your opponent, it is essential to pay attention not just to what they are saying, but also to what they are not saying. “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.” – Lao Tzu, in ‘The Art of War’

*Remember the power of listening: Effective arguing is not just about making your own point heard, it is also about listening to the other person's perspective. By actively listening to what the other person has to say, you can gain a better understanding of their position and find ways to bridge the gap between your views. Listening also shows respect and builds trust, which can be essential in finding a mutually acceptable solution.

For example, when you respond, it would be helpful to keep your points simple and to repeat them for emphasis. Avoid using the word "but", as it comes across as dismissive or confrontational. Instead, try using phrases like "that's interesting, and I would like to add a perspective" or "I understand where you're coming from, but I disagree."

Finally, do combine gestures to emphasise your arguments. After all, our language evolved from gestures. Researchers share five types: deictic (pointing to person or thing), iconic (showing action such as showing gesture of running), metaphorical (spreading arms to indicate whole world), symbolic (thumbs up sign), motor gestures (also called beat gestures such as banging the table while saying, ‘listen to me’). Listeners are 20 per cent more likely to correctly remember when beat gestures are used to emphasise the spoken word. 

Effective arguing is an essential skill that requires preparation, understanding of the opponent's perspective, and the ability to stay focused. Make your voice heard, even without shouting! Make your presence felt, without screaming. Make your points accepted, without hurting. After all, in our lives, we need to make our point, and not enemies.

Srinath Sridharan - Author (Time for Bharat), Policy Researcher & Corporate Advisor 

Twitter: @ssmumbai 

Steve Correa - Executive Coach, OD Consultant & Author (The Indian Boss at Work)

Twitter: @SteveCorrea1122

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