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Three Ways to Say “You’re Wrong”

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Telling someone they’re wrong can be a daunting task, especially if it’s in a work situation. That’s why at work, you very rarely hear someone flat out say, “You’re wrong.” On the one hand you don’t want to insult whomever you’re speaking to because, at the very least, you have to work with them. They could even be your boss or your client. On the other hand, you need to get them to understand that they are incorrect else it could cause major problems down the line. While this seems to be a “Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t” situation, there are ways to accomplish both goals. All it requires is the proper phrasing.

With that in mind, here are three phrases I’ve used to tell someone they’re wrong without actually having to say it:

“I see your point, however I think…” – The important part of this phrase is “I see your point.” Acknowledging the other person’s point of view is critical in getting them to listen to you. Even if you don’t actually see their point, you need to make them feel like you do. Once you get past that, they’ll be much more receptive to what you have to say.

“Hmm. What if we…” – This time, the “Hmm” is what I use to show I’m giving their idea serious thought. It may sound silly, but a simple verbal indication such as this can go a long way. Now that you’ve shown you are serious about their idea, you can hit them with yours using the “What if we…” line. By using “we”, you’re including them in the solution. By using “if”, you’re making a suggestion and not a direct order.

“The way I’m looking at it…” – Being able to explain the reasons behind your point of view is essential to this kind of conversation. The strength of this particular phrase is that it allows you to explain your reasoning before you hit them with your idea. For example, you could say: “The way I’m looking at it, we don’t have enough trucks to make all of the deliveries by next week. What if we prioritize the deliveries and decide which ones are absolutely necessary?” This way, you have them thinking your solution out with you. They will be much more likely to go along with your idea if they come to the conclusions themselves.

These are just three of the phrases you can use. There are many more out there, it just depends on your situation. Also, you can combine some of these phrases (as shown in the last example with the “What if we…”) to fit where you need them. When it comes down to it, there’s always a way to tell someone they’re wrong. Sometimes it just takes a little more thought to do so.

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About Kevin Augustine

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    This article is less about how to tell someone they’re wrong and more about how to trick someone into doing things a certain way.

    While passive-aggressive tactics have enjoyed much popularity as a communication tool in the workplace, these tactics are in fact a weapon for shutting down communication.

    The recipient of this skewed approach to workplace interaction will likely find themselves some five minutes down the hall thinking, “What just happened?” We know what happened: you tricked them into doing it your way.

    Let’s take a look at the suggestions, the more likely result, and the alternatives.

    “I see your point, however I think…”

    “However” is a fancy “but.” Anything (feeling, intention, opinion, etc) said before “however” or “but” is dismissed with the very use of the word. Try hearing “I love you, but…” and tell me how many warm fuzzies fill the cockles of your heart. If you feel “receptive” after hearing this, get counseling.

    The recipient isn’t going to feel heard, only dismissed – thus they will not be receptive to what you have to say. Most people won’t even realize what’s wrong (the major inconsistency between words and meaning), but they will know something is wrong. Their alarms will go off and their receptivity will be minimal until they are able to clear the smoke being blown around.

    “Hmm. What if we…”

    The use of “hmm” is actively taught in communication courses as a way to deflect conversation with difficult people who are attempting to inflict themselves (or their ideas) upon someone else. To indicate “hmm” could be used as a way to show thoughtfulness (that you readily admit you don’t have) is dishonest and manipulative. “Hit” pretty much sums up the true intention here.

    The use of “we,” in this context, implies having successfully manipulated the person into your way of thinking. Again, a person may not know what’s wrong, but they will know something is wrong. This is not so much communication advice as it is pointing out the very kind of co-worker (romantic interest, friend, family member) everyone should avoid.

    “The way I’m looking at it…”

    Sharing ideas and brainstorming solutions are tools. Using sharing and brainstorming to manipulate someone into your way of thinking just long enough to get your way (they will realize later that something was amiss) is an irresponsible use of those tools. It’s one-sided and “could cause major problems down the line.”

    These approaches may well in fact work the first few times they’re used until the recipient has had time to mull things over. The people using them will eventually find themselves avoided, alone, and without the loyalty of co-workers.

    The cornerstones of teamwork, camaraderie, and loyalty are built on a foundation of trust, honesty, and respect. None of these suggestions imbue anything of the sort.

    Learning and using active listening skills, being able to confront respectfully, being firm in complicated situations, and having the ability and all the information necessary to make difficult decisions based on the good of the company and its employees is crucial to the maintenance and stability of the workplace environment.

    Manipulation is a trick. It’s indirect, dishonest, a lazy way to breach and bypass communication, and erodes the relationship between co-workers. It fosters distrust and could eventually create a hostile working environment.

    Teamwork is a skill. It’s direct, honest, and requires knowledge, practice, and commitment. It fosters trust, respect, and loyalty.

    Playground rules and tools, while helpful and often necessary for the average eight-year-old, have no place in the big people world.

  • Leslie Bohn

    I’m trying to figure out three ways to say “This guy sounds kinda condescending.”

  • http://www.workplacelife.com/ TDXkev

    Wow, I can honestly say I was not expecting this kind of response. Obviously, this rattled Diana’s cage, so I’ll start there.

    I’m not sure how these are “playground rules and tools”. While it would be nice if the world was made of rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns, it’s not. There are just going to be some people who cannot take constructive criticism or other points of view well. In these cases, you need to be very careful with how you approach them with your ideas.

    Let’s take a real world example: Say you’re in a meeting with your immediate client, your boss, and their boss. Your client is really trying ti impress their boss and is also hard-headed. They throw out a ridiculous suggestion, which you need to shoot down immediately before it snowballs. How do you respond? Are you going to just tell them they’re wrong in front of their boss? No, you’re not. That’s a good time to use one of the suggestions above. Believe it or not, I have seen multiple people fired for embarrassing clients like this.

    Maybe the problem here is misinterpretation. These “ice breakers” if you will for your point of view are not meant to trick anyone. They allow you to explain your idea without:

    1.) Insulting the other party – True, you may be able to tell your buddy he’s wrong to his face, but try that with the senior executive on your project.

    2.) The other party shutting you out to begin with – Many times you run into people who if they have an opinion on something, that’s all they see, and they won’t listen to you. You need someway to get them to listen to your idea.

    3.) Alienating the other party – Similar to insulting them, you don’t want to alienate your co-workers or your clients. If you embarrass them in the example above, trust me, you’re done.

    I’m not sure how the other party would come away feel like they’ve been “tricked”. It’s not like you don’t explain your opinion. Last time I checked, the point of a two way conversation where both parties had different opionons was to have one party convince the other that they are right.

    Also, It’s not like you completely discounted their opinion, which is the impression Diana is giving. You’ve already considered it and deemed your idea to be the correct one. More than likely, they’ll use something above to try and convince you that they are right.

    In summary, while I appreciate the fact that Diana took the time to give her opinon, I cannot agree with any of it. This is an interesting discussion though, so I would like other’s opinons as well.

    Also, as a side note to Leslies comment, I have no idea where you’re coming from with the condescending comment. Maybe if I was like “Because you are always right..”, which is clearly not the case. If you think you are legitimately correct, that’s when you can use the tools I suggested.

  • Leslie Bohn

    I appreciate that, but to me, and I think to Ms. Hartman too, if she’ll forgive my interpreting her much more eloquent words, your advice sounds very condescending and self-important, as though you’re not really interested in others’ ideas, but rather just in getting them to agree with yours.

    Perhaps these methods are useful in those hopefully rare instances when the other person is just clearly a proven moron with no clue — but avoiding working with/for such a person would seem a better long-term strategy.

    Last time I checked, the point of a two way conversation where both parties had different opionons was to have one party convince the other that they are right.

    Check again. The point is to figure out the right answer/best way to do things.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    “While it would be nice if the world was made of rainbows, butterflies, and unicorns, it’s not.”

    You got this from where?

    “Last time I checked, the point of a two way conversation where both parties had different opionons was to have one party convince the other that they are right.”

    Leslie has it in a nutshell: “The point is to figure out the right answer/best way to do things.”

    What are the odds that you could be so readily persuaded – especially if the very ideas you’re suggesting were used on you? I wouldn’t – and haven’t – been persuaded by those using such tactics. A coworker or client is that much less apt to respond positively to what is clearly a manipulative attempt (you already think you’re right and getting them on your side is your only goal) when it is accompanied by body language, facial expressions, and tones of voice.

    Compromise is the name of the game. Some aren’t up for compromise because giving up even 10% of the way one wants it done causes too much anxiety, much less the more fair and equitable 50%. Compromise doesn’t mean giving in (in fact, it rarely means giving in). Mostly it means taking the time to hear the other person completely, sincerely validating their ideas and opinions, and empathizing where one can.

    Taking 20 minutes to hear someone out isn’t nearly as manhour-consuming as trying to fix, cover, or make up for what they do later as a way to meet their need (to be heard and taken seriously). We will all find ways to be heard, one way or another, coworker or client. For some who don’t feel heard, this means taking one minute, twenty different times, to do something their way. This means a lot of work for someone else to the tune of at least twenty minutes some twenty times.

    I’m tellin’ you — stay away from the dismissive and invalidating language of “however” and “but.” I’d even be careful with my use of the word “if.”

    More often than not, the person who feels heard is considerably more receptive to alternatives – even those ideas that run directly counter to their own.

    When discussing options with clients and coworkers, especially when they have totally unworkable ideas, active listening is imperative. Feeding back their ideas to them, to include encouraging them to follow the idea through so they get to the inevitable (disaster) themselves, is essential to another feeling heard and taken seriously — thus more likely to be receptive to any countering ideas and alternatives.

    Coworkers need feel they are an integral part of the big picture (even if that picture is only four cubicles in a department). Anything done to compromise this sense of teamwork will only serve to rip at the seams of the group. Then you’ll have pairing, dissent, and ultimately a significant drop in productivity.

    Clients come experienced and inexperienced, educated and uneducated. They need be respectfully assessed for their weaknesses and strengths (everyone has both), and their strengths used to further the project. Where their weaknesses rear up (they’re artistic but their powerful corporate father insists they do the math), use their strength to carry their weakness (in this case, the artistic client can brainstorm ideas for presentation of the financial information – the financial information itself being done by someone else).

    Difficult, stubborn, and hardheaded clients and coworkers all have one thing in common — they want to be heard. So listen. Paraphrase and give back to them what they said. They’ll either say, “That’s exactly what I’m saying” or “You’re twisting my words.” With the former, you’re gold. With the latter, ask for clarification. Let them do the talking. Eventually, most will have talked themselves out of it.

    That small percentage who don’t (the actively defiant, which is to say those who feel the most powerless) are going to need a little more attention, and they might need it from the professionals in human resources rather than being allowed to continue to submit their coworkers to the products of their tormented souls.

    Treat others as you would want to be treated. If you’re willing to accept and think you can thrive upon hearing “I love you, but…” then you’re on the path that’s right for you. Just don’t expect much company, as that is not the path of most people.

  • http://www.workplacelife.com/ TDXkev

    Well, it looks like you completely missed the point again. I think we’ll just have to leave this at agree to disagree, because it’s obvious that we’re not going to sway each other’s opinons.

  • http://elsaelsa.com elsa

    Very manipulative! But reality is, these techniques will work on most people. Problem is, the people who see through you, because they will loathe you and burn you down.

  • Leslie Bohn

    re: #6
    This is priceless and hilarious. The commenter (Ms. Hartman) points out that the poster’s method doesn’t work because it doesn’t allow for seeing the other person’s point of view or admit the possibilty of compromise, and the poster responds that she is completely wrong and IT’S POINTLESS TO EVEN DISCUSS IT.

    I nominate TDXkev as the “Least Self-aware Poster of the Day.” Why do I think I won’t find much usable “office life advice” at Mr. kev’s website?

  • http://www.workplacelife.com/ TDXkev

    Actually Leslie, I did post quite a long response to Diana’s comments, and after she posted another response I simply decided that we weren’t going to see eye to eye. You make it sound as if I never even responded.

    I’m not even going to respond to your personal attacks, you are free to read or disregard my work as you wish.

  • Leslie Bohn

    Hey, look at the bright side — I probably just got you a couple of hits at your site!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    “Well, it looks like you completely missed the point again.”

    I didn’t miss the point. I don’t agree with your point. That’s not the same as missing it. If you equate the two, good luck with that.

    Your point (correct me if I’m wrong) is that others can get a client or coworker to agree with them by flat out lying (“Even if you don’t actually see their point, you need to make them feel like you do.”) and blindsiding (“Now that you’ve shown you are serious about their idea, you can hit them with yours using the ‘What if we…’ line.”).

    While I would agree with Elsa that these techinques would in fact work, I would again assert they won’t work but once or twice. Once, maybe twice is all it will take for a person to view someone using these techniques as untrustworthy.

    “I think we’ll just have to leave this at agree to disagree, because it’s obvious that we’re not going to sway each other’s opinons.”

    So, what would you suggest a person do, as an alternative to the things you’ve already suggested, if they worked with a person like me and wanted to get me to do what they wanted?

    Allow me to help you out: to persuade someone like me into doing something other than what I had intended, I’m going to need to hear you feedback to me my position as I stated it. If you “don’t actually see” my point, the feedback you do give me will expose your “I see your point” assertion for the lie it is. I’m not going to listen to anything else you have to say, much less cooperate with you. You’ve lost my loyalty and we’re not even out of the starting gate.

    If you do listen and do give sincere feedback, then I will listen to you and feedback to you what you said. In this, we will find be able to define the problem as a team, brainstorm as a team, consider our list of possible solutions and the consequences of each as a team, and finally arrive at a solution – as a team.

    “Actually Leslie, I did post quite a long response to Diana’s comments…”

    Leslie didn’t say or insinuate a lack of response by you. Leslie was citing the irony. If you got “you did not respond” from Leslie’s post, it’s a good bet you have hidden agendas and assume everyone does, too. This would explain why you’ve made the suggestions you have — that some coworkers and clients can’t be dealt with directly and honestly but must instead be coerced.

    If this is the kind of workplace you’ve found yourself in, perhaps it’s time to look for a different job.

  • Nancy

    I don’t read condescension into this article; the point seems to be in telling someone you don’t agree without offending them, & thereby letting them save face, especially in front of others. Nothing wrong with that, IMO; whatever works. I’ve had it done to me, and as I was heading down the hall, I’ve had the light dawn & realized I was just ‘manipulated'; but usually my reaction was admiration for the deft & kindly manner in which it was done, not offense at having been re-routed. It’s definitely an art form & a necessary social skill too little exercised these days.

  • http://www.workplacelife.com/ TDXkev

    Thank you Nancy, that was very well put and explains my viewpoint exactly.

  • http://HiTechArts Woman sung about

    Nancy
    I think once you have eaten jello pudding,
    you can easily say what the experience was like.
    Being born like me, it is not for you to say.

    Mary Reborn

  • http://www.workplacelife.com/ TDXkev

    What?

  • D’oh

    Kevin, that is “Mary reborn literally”…an individual who hijacked another thread months ago, and seems to have returned to BC for more of her schtick, and followed Nancy to your thread.

    All that aside, I tend to go with more of Diana’s assessment. What you appear to have advocated is a kind of passive/aggressive version of the AM radio jock’s tactics of false framing and argument control.

    This is all fine well and good as some kind of mid-management type who feels the need to coerce or con someone into doing what is desired, but lacks true communication and understanding between the individuals involved. Rather it appears to start with the assumption that ‘you’ are completely correct and ‘they’ are completely wrong, and that there is no real value in actual communication, but rather the overwhelming goal is to just talk the ‘opponent’ into agreeing without real communication occurring.

    Might be fine for small office politics, but the entire approach as outlined doesn’t appear to foster real communication and problem solving.

  • http://www.workplacelife.com TDXkev

    Thanks for posting D’Oh, I think I see where the miscommunication is happening.

    I’ll start off with this statement: This article is not intended to be a problem solving guide, far from it.

    I think this is where the miscommunication is happening. This is NOT my approach to solving a problem. Instead, this article is for those situations where:

    1.) You’ve already incorporated all of the available information into your view. This includes listening to the other parties reasons and thoughts.

    2.) Based on all of the available information, you have concieved your point of view and you think it is the correct one. This includes possibly incorporating part of the other parties viewpoint into your own.

    3.) However, now you need to convince the other party that your view is the right one without embarrassing or insulting them.

    Number 1 is the key point here, you’ve already taken all of the available information into consideration. This doesn’t mean that you think you’re always right regardless of others viewpoints. This just means that in this case, after all is said and done, you think you have the right solution.

    The main point I’m trying to make is that in the end, you are going to end up adopting a viewpoint that you think is right. After all of the brainstorming, after all of the discussions with all parties, after all the information is considered, you’re going to form an opinon.

    Now, hopefully, the other party is receptive to listening to other ideas. However, if not, if they are dead set in their ways, you need some way to “break the ice” so to speak, or to get them to really listen to your opinon. You don’t want to embarrass or insult them, so you can’t say “You’re just wrong.”. The tips above can help you in this regard.

    This also applies to client situations, as I mentioned in an earlier comment. Sometimes you’ll get in a meeting, and you’ll have a client suggest a course of action, or an idea, that you know is not right. How do you know? Maybe your the Subject Matter Expert in this area, maybe you’ve already discussed this idea with them and have ruled it out. Maybe you talked it over with your team and there would be just no way it could be done. However, you can’t just embarrass them in the meeting by saying “You’re wrong.” You have to be more subtle about it.

    I think that’s the best way I can explain this. I really think that the problem is we were talking about two different parts in the problem solving process: Me at the very end, D’Oh, Leslie, and Diana at the beginning.

    Please let me know if this clears things up.

  • D’oh

    It does help to clarify your intent quite a bit, thanks for taking the time.

    I had figured out that parts 1&2 were where you were coming from.

    It’s part 3 where I think the real divergence occurs. I’ll not speak for others, and just communicate my own misgivings about the approach.

    While I heartily agree and understand where you seem to be coming from, the decision is made, it’s the tactics you are advocating and not the motive behind them.

    I’ve had to deal with situations like this over the years, as the “subject matter expert”. My own approach has been to explain the whys of what can and cannot be done, give my recommendation and then listen to try and discover where the point of friction resides.

    Once you understand what it is the person you are talking to is trying to accomplish, it becomes much easier to discuss everything and make your own points.

    Now under the scenario you are putting forward here, I’m not certain if we are speaking about equal status individuals or not. If it is a boss/subordinate situation, then you have a completely different dynamic.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    “Please let me know if this clears things up.”

    It’s already clear. You advocate the use of dishonesty and trickery instead of honesty, directness, compromise and respect for your coworkers and clients.

    If you know a client/coworker is wrong, if you know your course of action is best, and you have all the information to substantiate both of these assertions, you can say (and point to your presentation if it’s there) “This is what I think we should do and why. I don’t think we should go with this (point to their presentation if it’s there) and this is why.” Then substantiate your claims.

    Who do you work with/for that is so fragile? Does your job/pay hinge on your ability to skirt professional confrontation and diplomatic resolution? The workplace is, again, not a playground. Constructive criticism and critical thinking are tools of the workforce, not banes of existence.

    Just because someone’s feelings are hurt doesn’t mean you hurt their feelings. Maybe they aren’t professional enough to see the difference between their person and their presentations. If you insult them, sure you’re guilty, but as long as you’re not following “I think this is the best course of action” with “You’re stupid,” they can feel hurt all day long and still no one is guilty of having hurt their feelings.

    Maybe you don’t want to say “You’re wrong” because you know the next line of conversation will be “Why do you say that?” If you can’t/won’t say why, then you’ve no leg to stand on. If you’re prepared, you can answer the question and everyone gets on with their worklives no worse for the wear.

    Might I add that unless you’re in a position of authority, you should most certainly be working as a team member instead of trying to get your teammates to do things your way. If it’s not a mutual (team) decision, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board. It doesn’t mean it’s time for one person to break out a can of manipulative whoop ass. Your opinion doesn’t matter more than someone else’s when you’re all on the same team. If this is your attitude, consider a job where you’re the only employee.

    The client wants what the client wants. If you simply will not deliver, they can go elsewhere. If you’re fine with that, all’s well. If not, time for a different approach. If the client pulls the account because you wouldn’t give them what they wanted, that’s just bad business and that client will talk about your lack of cooperation and compromise all up and down main street. If being right is more important than being in business, a career in politics or theology might be more to your liking.

    “I really think that the problem is we were talking about two different parts in the problem solving process: Me at the very end, D’Oh, Leslie, and Diana at the beginning.”

    Nice smoke ring. Cough. The rest of us were talking about every step in the process and not saying anything exclusive to any one part of it.

    If you’re using different communication techniques in different parts of the process, that’s inconsistent. If an approach works well, it will work all the way through, not just in the beginning or at the end. Dishonesty never, ever applies.

    “This is NOT my approach to solving a problem.”

    What is your approach to solving a problem? If you answer the question, I promise not to focus on how you dedicated an entire article to advice you readily admit you don’t use.

  • http://www.workplacelife.com TDXkev

    I’ll address D’Oh first:

    The main situations I see these phrases being used are:

    1.) Boss/Subordinate – Also include client in here under “Boss”.

    2.) Stubborn co-worker – This is where you’ve already listened to their end, assimilated the information, and can’t seem to get through to them to listen to yours.

    Now on to Diana. Let’s go point by point:

    “It’s already clear. You advocate the use of dishonesty and trickery instead of honesty, directness, compromise and respect for your coworkers and clients.”

    This is complete and utter nonsense. Did you even read my last comment?

    “If you know a client/coworker is wrong, if you know your course of action is best, and you have all the information to substantiate both of these assertions, you can say (and point to your presentation if it’s there) “This is what I think we should do and why. I don’t think we should go with this (point to their presentation if it’s there) and this is why.” Then substantiate your claims.”

    This is all well and good normally, as stated in my last comment. However, I’m coming from the viewpoint that you 1.) Can’t get through to them or 2.) That you do exactly what you said, but in a much more delicate matter (as in the example of the client meeting).

    “Who do you work with/for that is so fragile? Does your job/pay hinge on your ability to skirt professional confrontation and diplomatic resolution? The workplace is, again, not a playground. Constructive criticism and critical thinking are tools of the workforce, not banes of existence.”

    This shows me that you: 1.) Have been extremely lucky with your co-workers/clients and/or 2.) Have not had much experience in dealing with difficult people. The above statement is excellent, and I wish that it was universally true. However, I have had a number of “delicate” clients so to speak, and co-workers. Believe it or not, not everybody can take constructive criticism. In this case, bluntness, even if you are indeed right, is not possible.

    “Just because someone’s feelings are hurt doesn’t mean you hurt their feelings. Maybe they aren’t professional enough to see the difference between their person and their presentations. If you insult them, sure you’re guilty, but as long as you’re not following “I think this is the best course of action” with “You’re stupid,” they can feel hurt all day long and still no one is guilty of having hurt their feelings.”

    Would be nice if this were true, but unfortunately this is not the case. Many times with a difficult person even if you’ve done nothing more than tell them flat out that they are wrong, they will take it personally, even if it’s not right to do so. Once again, this doesn’t happen with everybody, but it does happen on a case by case basis.

    “Maybe you don’t want to say “You’re wrong” because you know the next line of conversation will be “Why do you say that?” If you can’t/won’t say why, then you’ve no leg to stand on. If you’re prepared, you can answer the question and everyone gets on with their worklives no worse for the wear.”

    In my last comment, I made clear that the phrases were not made to hide inadequacies in your arguement. Instead, they are meant to help you present it in difficult situations.

    “Might I add that unless you’re in a position of authority, you should most certainly be working as a team member instead of trying to get your teammates to do things your way. If it’s not a mutual (team) decision, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board. It doesn’t mean it’s time for one person to break out a can of manipulative whoop ass. Your opinion doesn’t matter more than someone else’s when you’re all on the same team. If this is your attitude, consider a job where you’re the only employee.”

    Once again, my previous comment clearly states that everybody’s opinons have been accounted for and considered when you are making your own. However, you will end up with a final viewpoint, which you will want to get across.

    “The client wants what the client wants. If you simply will not deliver, they can go elsewhere. If you’re fine with that, all’s well. If not, time for a different approach. If the client pulls the account because you wouldn’t give them what they wanted, that’s just bad business and that client will talk about your lack of cooperation and compromise all up and down main street. If being right is more important than being in business, a career in politics or theology might be more to your liking.”

    I don’t even know where to begin with this. Where do you even get the idea that I’m not cooperating with the client? Once again, please read the last comment.

    “Nice smoke ring. Cough. The rest of us were talking about every step in the process and not saying anything exclusive to any one part of it.”

    Sigh.

    “If you’re using different communication techniques in different parts of the process, that’s inconsistent. If an approach works well, it will work all the way through, not just in the beginning or at the end. Dishonesty never, ever applies.”

    Now I’m thinking you don’t have much experience working an entire project spectrum (from selling the work to the O&M phase). You’re right, dishonesty never applies, however I’m not advocating dishonesty. I’m advocating being more discreet than just dumping “You’re wrong” on them. Also, sometimes different approaches are required at different levels. You’re going to approach things differently when you’re talking to your co-workers than when you are talking to the Project Lead.

    “What is your approach to solving a problem? If you answer the question, I promise not to focus on how you dedicated an entire article to advice you readily admit you don’t use.”

    What I meant by that statement was point out that these phrases can be used after problem resolution in your mind, which should be after extensive consideration of the problem and available information. I don’t automatically assume I’m always right, and then force my opinon on others, as you suggest.

    Overall, I’m not sure why you’re taking such an aggressive stance on this, like I have horns or kill puppies (which I don’t, in case you want to quote that). I’ve made it quite clear the circumstances for when these phrases are needed, and why.

  • Suzanne

    Wow, Kevin’s article has ruffled a few feathers. Everyone has made some valid points, so I thought I would jump on the bandwagon.

    First, I don’t think Kevin is suggesting that you should “trick” your co-workers, supervisors, or clients into supporting your ideas. Instead, I think he is merely suggesting that in certain situations, using the phrase “you are wrong” is unacceptable or counterproductive. Some work relationships can withstand slinging the phrase “you are wrong”, but others can’t.

    Second, I agree with Diane that team work is important and that “teamwork is a skill”, but at one time or another you or one of your team members will put forth a proposal that is not a viable solution to the situation at hand. If you are lucky, you work in an environment where you can simply tell a team member that he or she is wrong and why. No harm, no foul. However (I like using the fancy “but”), my experience in both the private and government sectors has shown that telling someone “you are wrong”, especially in front of others, can cause embarrassment or negatively influence how a coworker, supervisor, or client views that person’s level of competency. Also, you may be perceived as tactless.

    Third, Leslie’s statement that Kevin’s “methods are useful in those hopefully rare instances when the other person is just clearly a proven moron with no clue” is off kilter. I can honestly say that I have never worked with a “proven moron with no clue”, even in the federal government. In fact, I have been fortunate enough to have worked with some exceptional people. Yet, at times, these exceptional people have suggested solutions or proposals that were wrong. Usually, this stems from a lack of information or technical expertise. I myself have put forth suggestions that were wrong because I did not have all of the relevant information available and/or was not thoroughly versed in a particular method/program. In each of these instances, my co-workers, supervisors, or clients listened to my ideas, and then utilizing Kevin’s methods and others (e.g. “That sounds pretty good, but I would take this approach”) told me I was wrong. Being approached with the types of methods Kevin suggested did not make me feel as if I had been “conned”. Since they worked on me, in Leslie’s mind I am a moron. I can live with that.

    I do have a few more points, but I am a bit tired and need to be well rested to face all the ways someone may tell me “you are wrong” tomorrow.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    “You’re right, dishonesty never applies, however I’m not advocating dishonesty.”

    This is advocating dishonesty: “Even if you don’t actually see their point, you need to make them feel like you do.”

    “Overall, I’m not sure why you’re taking such an aggressive stance on this, like I have horns or kill puppies…”

    If you honestly think I’m being aggressive, it would explain why you’ve had the troubles you’ve had in the workplace. Assertive, direct, diplomatic, and firm communication is a mainstay in the workplace. Anything less — or else — is going to cause problems; problems that can’t be solved by applying more of what caused the problems in the first place.

    Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go with the bad idea because that’s just how it’s going to be despite your best efforts to shed light on the project. If nothing else, someone somewhere along the line is going to come back and ask why it was done the way it was instead of a different way. Then you’ll have the floor, you’ll have it all to yourself, and the person asking may well be in a position to improve your worklife. Thing is, using the tactics in the article stonewall any likelihood of anyone being redeemed. If you do employ these tactics and still lose out, the tactics you used are going to be more talked about than any bright idea you had.

    I don’t think you have horns. I think you’re throwing snowballs with rocks in them.

    “…my experience in both the private and government sectors has shown that telling someone “you are wrong”, especially in front of others, can cause embarrassment or negatively influence how a coworker, supervisor, or client views that person’s level of competency.”

    Agreed. No matter the situation, (workplace, children, marriage, party, church group, etc) it’s never okay to say anything negative to someone in front of others. Taking them off to the side is always the best bet. Once off to the side, though, it does no good to claim you see someone’s point when in fact you don’t as a precursor to “hitting” them with your own ideas as was suggested in the article.

    Again, if an idea is bad, saying so and substantiating it with direct, honest language gives the other person something to work with. No one can work with “I see your point” when the point isn’t really being seen. If a coworker flat out won’t listen after having been heard themselves, take this information to the team and, if need be, the supervisor. If someone is so truly stubborn that they are unwilling to listen to another person’s ideas, they’re not going to listen to anything — including the suggestions made in the article. Someone who would listen to the suggestions in the article has at least one open ear — which can be used to hear your idea.

    A boss with a bad idea is a different dynamic as is a client with a bad idea. The boss is going to deal with the direct consequencese of his decision, not the team. If the boss is passing crap downhill, pass this information back up to his boss. I’ve heard many times how this won’t work or doesn’t work from a lot of people who did not in fact try it. They instead used their crystal ball to come to that conclusion. Those who have used professional language and went prepared with facts did successfully use the chain of command to resolve the matter.

    The client is a customer and the customer is always right. If they want banana splits and you’re a steel mill, it’s easy enough to point out the flaw in how they’re going about getting what they desire. “You’re wrong” isn’t necessary or even workable in any situation, but then neither is “I see your point” (especially when you don’t) or “The way I’m looking at it.” Try stating the facts. “This is a steel mill. We don’t have ice cream. Perhaps I could interest you in the materials needed to build an ice cream store.” Too, do remember that while the customer is always right, management decides who is still a customer. If a client is that irrational, losing that account might be the best thing.

  • http://www.workplacelife.com TDXkev

    This is my last comment, as I’ve already devoted too much time to this already.

    From your comments Diana, it seems to me that you don’t have much or any consulting experience, or you rarely have to deal with executives/higher level management. Your last two paragraphs there really show your inexperience.

    The boss is the only one who has to feel the consequences of their bad idea? Completely untrue. In fact, usually the people who feel this the most is their team. Sure, down the road, if it doesn’t work out, the boss might get it. But those 7 months getting there are all on team. I’d rather avoid 7 months of overtime and nip that idea in the bud.

    The client is always right? Also untrue. You’re going to find that many times a client will suggest something that is right out of left field. Not all the time, but this will happen. When it does, you need to let them down gently.

    Lose the account if the client is irrational? This was the capper. If everybody who had an irrational client dropped those accounts, there would be no consulting workforce. You’re going to drop a 10 billon dollar account because they’re “irrational”? I don’t think so, and neither will your management.

    I think you also mentioned taking someone aside for a discussion? This is all well and good on a low level, but are you going to interrupt a meeting between you, your client, the executive partner, and say 15 other people so you can talk about it with your client? No, you don’t have that luxury. You have no choice but to show them that the idea is unfeasible during the meeting, as that’s where the decisions are being made, right now. This is when tact is required.

    That’s it, have a nice day.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer.php?name=diana+hartman diana hartman

    Lying is not tactful.

    That your experiences (read: your interpretations of events) are different from mine doesn’t make mine “untrue” or my resume slight.

    Given the brazenness with which you’re willing to dole out “untrue” and “completely untrue” (to paraphrase “you’re wrong”) per the assertions I’ve made, one must wonder why you can’t bring yourself to just tell someone “you’re wrong.” If it’s okay in this discussion, why not in a discussion offline?

    If you truly possessed the tact and diplomacy you advise everyone else employ when up against a difficult coworker/client/boss, one must then wonder why you’re not employing it here?

    “…I’ve already devoted too much time to this already.”

    These would make nice parting words if 292 more words didn’t follow. See the problem? You say one thing and do another — just as you’ve advised others to do. It won’t work on anyone with a shred of self-awareness. You’re advocating the manipulation of the vulnerable as a work ethic.

    Try printing out the article you wrote and attaching it to your resume. If you get any job offers comparable to the position you have now, I’m sure your readers would like to know about them.

  • Nancy

    Eric, is there any way to bar or otherwise put a halt to this delusional “Mary” person? I don’t like to put a halt to anybody’s posting if they’re going to contribute, however marginally, but this gal is beginning to behave like a blog-stalker. I don’t even mind as long as she kept her weirdo comments to the one thread, but now she’s following me around to other articles.

  • another nanc

    Job #1 is building relationships based on agreement and especially integrity and there are no shortcuts to doing that–either as an employee dealing with a boss or a service provider dealing with a customer. Perhaps big accounts have to be lost in favor of customer loyalty among several smaller ones but all this should be considered in finding a target market and coming up with a business model. And only agree when you can but be very clear when you agree so that agreement isn’t missed.

    There needs to be an honest way to make a living–a truly honest way, whatever your role. Simply because a client is a billion dollar account doesn’t entitle him to a different reality.

    By telling the ‘emperor that you see his new clothes’ but perhaps he might be interested in something of a superior quality is kind of insulting anyway, and especially so if the emperor is inclined to view ANY comparison of ideas as a contradiction and therefore an insult. If the emperor wanted to hear the truth he’d recognize it and welcome it.

    If I am wearing the best fake clothes (but they are real to me!) and you agree with me or play along with my delusion–and if I ever wake up to see my error–I might wonder about what kind of person you are to pretend at all. And what else have you said that I cannot trust. Another way, and it is a respectful way to pose your view is to say something like,

    ‘I wonder if you didn’t already consider this idea. If we adopted this solution (or went in this direct, etc.) we could capitalize on this and this. (Paint the picture conversationally.) If we don’t we could lose this and this advantage. Keep is short and simple. And don’t belabor the point.

    If the person raises an objection then you could say, I won’t belabor the point (unless you are already known to belabor the point) but…

    ‘If you have already thought of all this, here’s my (give an additional) reason why it should be kept on the table.’

    If you are fearful that something drastic could happen establish a code for sending distress signals and use it only for the most dire emergency when you must agree and do so on the spot. Save it for truly critical deals and projects.

    The point is to have such a policy of agreement and integrity and loyalty that if you don’t agree, it will bring attention to itself and carry more weight.

    But if, conversely, you agree by saying I see your point to a delusion (perhaps)–I’m using the extreme to make a point that I am coming to now…–by agreeing to something fruitless you could inadvertently encourage it and that would not be what you intended by your ‘diplomatic’ approach. It can be a slippery slope.

  • Sanne Volks

    Is it insulting if your boss is shouting at you : “What i wrong with YOU”!!! I do not want to make a mistake, but I was told so by my boss and I felt very insulted. Am I right?