“Do you ever really ‘win’ an argument?”
When someone says something that we don’t agree with, our first impulse is often to contradict or correct them. They are wrong. We are right. Then they argue back. The debate becomes heated, personal, and ultimately counterproductive. No minds are changed. If anything, both sides are more deeply entrenched.
If we are to influence others to be open to change, we need a better approach. One technique you can use to sidestep the angry clash is to do something called the Ransberger Pivot.
What’s Your Point?
Maybe you’ve seen the meme: a pie chart of the outcome of political arguments carried out in social media. The legend tells us that green is for the times when you change your mind; blue is for the times when they change their mind.
But there is neither green nor blue; the entire pie is red, representing the times when no one changed their mind and everyone just became more angry.
It’s Not Rational, It’s Emotional
As Dale Carnegie reminds us in How to Win Friends and Influence People, telling someone they are wrong usually doesn’t go over very well.
People like to be right, to feel important, and to be appreciated. When we tell someone that they are wrong, they can take it personally. It can be a blow to their ego, an assault on their pride.
And it’s normal, right? When we feel that our position is under assault, we’re naturally inclined to dig in. We become more stubborn. We fight back. We are NOT wrong.
What may have begun as a conversation quickly becomes a confrontation. The framework around the discussion has two sides that are diametrically opposed.
From this “Me vs. You” framework conflict rises, and individual positions become hardened. Once someone has stated a position it becomes very difficult to persuade them to move off of it. No one is going to be convinced of anything under these conditions.
The Ransberger Pivot
The Ransberger Pivot gets around this problem by changing the framework. Instead of a construct that has people on opposing sides of an issue, the pivot puts both people on the same side. It replaces an environment of confrontation with one of cooperation.
With both people in agreement, suddenly there is a lot less to argue about in the first place.
Even better, using the pivot you end up validating the other person instead of attacking them, so you can end the conversation as friends, not enemies.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Listen
Stop talking and listen carefully to what they are saying. Be respectful, make eye contact, and focus on the values that underlie their words. Make it your goal to find out what’s important to them and why.
If you are not sure, ask questions to get at the heart of their point of view. Don’t be confrontational. Do be genuinely interested. As Steven Covey coaches us:
If you need clarity, ask open-ended questions like:
“Why do you feel this way?”
“What makes this important to you?”
As they respond, withhold judgement, remain calm, breathe slowly, and try not to get defensive. Listen. By listening, you show respect.
Step 2 (a): Voice a point of agreement.
Look for any points of understanding that you are sure you both agree on. Make your first responses an affirmation of these points.
By agreeing with them, you are reframing the discussion. Instead of two sides in conflict with each other, you are building a bridge that allows you to come together on the same side with a shared objective.
“I appreciate your idea, and like you, I think it’s really important that…”
“It’s clear to me that we both believe…”
“The fact that you feel this way shows that we both care deeply about…”
This response validates the shared values you both agree on and in that way validates the person you are talking with.
Step 2 (b): Admit misunderstanding.
(I added this part, but think it makes a lot of sense here). As you build that bridge of commonality, if you discover that you misunderstood or were mistaken about some point of theirs, be honest and admit it.
When you admit an error or mistake, they may be more willing to reciprocate later on in the conversation.
By listening respectfully, then focusing on points of agreement, you are joining with them instead of fighting against them. By honestly admitting error you open the door for them to be more objective, too.
A note of caution:
At this point in the process, you may discover that the other person is actually right. This is OK. In fact, it’s great.
As leaders, our goal must be pursuit of what is right. Don’t let it become a contest about who was right.
If it turns out that they are right, then you can end the process at this point. Thank them for their insight, maybe shake their hand, smile, and then move on to something else.
This can be hard. If you want to feel good about this, then congratulate yourself on being big enough to get past your ego to find the right answer to the problem.
There are those who will stubbornly hold to their position for fear that it will weaken them as a leader in the eyes of others.
On the contrary, I think the opposite is true:
Step 3: Follow up.
With the conversation reframed, you are now both on the same side of the issue seeking the same positive outcome.
This is the time to begin talking about how the idea you have will help resolve the issue that you are both concerned about.
Stay focused on how this idea meets your common goal, stay respectful, and don’t let it get personal. If you have successfully changed the framework, you will both be able to focus on finding answers and solutions instead of defending egos and protecting pride.
Ransberger Pivot – The Takeaway
You never really “win” an argument, and the whole win-lose framework is one that sets somebody up for embarassment, humilation or a shot to the ego.
That’s something most people will struggle hard to avoid.
It’s far better to sidestep the argument entirely. One of the tools you can use to accomplish that is the Ransberger Pivot.
Put the focus on where you agree instead of disagree, and you’ll have a better shot at finding a solution together.