Winning, but without creating any losers

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 15, 2009 - 10:04 PM

We live in a competitive world, a world of winners and losers, where winning means overcoming, vanquishing or destroying your opponent.

It doesn't have to be that way, at least not all the time. You can win without making your opponent lose.

The traditional or classic method of argumentation is oppositional. Three entities are involved. Two opposing parties appeal to a third for approval or support. Elections are based on oppositional argumentation where two (or more) political parties make their case to a third entity, the electorate. Similarly, our legal system involves prosecuting and defending attorneys making their cases not to one another, but to the judge or jury.

In oppositional argumentation, the goal is to outsmart or outmaneuver your opponent, not influence your opponent's thinking or change your opponent's mind. Unless some compromise is reached, oppositional argumentation results in a winner and a loser.

Non-oppositional persuasion involves not three but two parties. Unlike oppositional argumentation, non-oppositional persuasion involves each party trying to win over the other.

Non-oppositional persuasion is sometimes called Rogerian after psychologist Carl Rogers, who devised a method of resolving differences that required one party to restate the other party's point. Not until the first party has accepted the restatement as valid and accurate can the second party rebut or counter it.

In the process, empathy is encouraged. The idea is that, in addition to simply restating the point, both parties are encouraged to acknowledge and affirm the validity of the other party's assertion or point of view, at least in certain circumstances. The goal of Rogerian persuasion is to get the opposing parties to listen more attentively and to encourage them to find solutions that are mutually beneficial. The implications for marriage counseling are obvious.

How do these two strategies apply to the workplace? Here's an example:

Let's say you and I are managers in the same company. Quality control has been a problem, and I want to propose we spend more money on training, thereby making life easier for both of us. I might unthinkingly take an oppositional approach by sending my proposal to our boss and a copy to you.

You may like my idea, but because you weren't consulted beforehand, you're likely to question my motives. You might suspect I'm trying to make myself look good and you look bad.

If, instead of appealing directly to the third party, I had first approached you, I might have allayed your concerns and won you as an ally.

The result? There more likely would be two winners rather than one winner and one loser. At the very least, I would have avoided damaging our working relationship. It's win-win rather than win-lose.

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