Has arguing gotten a bad rap?

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During my drive across Kansas yesterday, I listened to a Teaching Company course on Argumentation (sidenote: I love the Teaching Company, especially anything about music by Professor Greenberg). It was a timely topic since Jim and I were just discussing the importance of including “arguing” in our Thought Ensemble business plan and the negative impression people often have of the word. While listening to the first few lectures, it occurred to me that arguing has gotten a bit of a bum rap and this is stifling innovation in the business world.

Many people, including myself, cringe at the thought of a big argument. That is because arguing in the business world is often more telling or bullying, rather than a healthy banter to refine ideas. Arguing in its purest definition is much more of a debate. It comes with uncertainty – one does not argue about an idea he knows to be true beyond a shadow of a doubt. It comes with inherent risk – risk of having to change one’s position and risk of being wrong. Great argumentation happens in an environment where people feel safety and mutual respect. In these situations, great ideas are born, challenged and refined.

Companies who want to innovate must build arguing into their culture. Not telling or bullying, but healthy debate. Arguing breeds a culture of constant idea generation and critical evaluation – the keys to successful innovation. If your company doesn’t want to argue with you, let us know – we’d love to debate your ideas.