Keys to Successful Communication

How to present an argument in business
Carl Tompkins
March 28, 2018
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : MANAGEMENT

There is a phrase that I coined, “Right or wrong is not the controlling issue; it’s how you present your case that counts.” Being right is important, but equally important is presenting one’s position and recommendations in a manner that is acceptable to the audience. This successful communication is key to bettering relationships and improving odds of business success. What follows are tips to presenting an argument in business.

1 - Know your stuff.

To successfully express an argument or perspective, a person must have all the facts and be prepared to adequately share them. In other words, “do your homework!” Unsubstantiated opinions and positions are the first to be discarded. Consider the facts as the foundation of a position. Even for the boss, the facts are required.

2 - Control the emotion.

Passion is a great thing and, when used in the right amounts at the right time, can be very motivating. However, passion and emotions can be viewed negatively when used in excess. Audiences, whether one person or many, consider emotion an unacceptable replacement for logic because they assume that excessive emotion is only used by people when they hold a weak position on a topic. 

A strong argument should be based on rationality, and the proper use of emotion should be considered the spice of the recipe, not the main ingredient. I recommend using passion and emotions as a way to demonstrate commitment but never as a tool of persuasion.

3 - Teach to the future, not the past.

I heard a story of a great orchestra conductor who took an innovative teaching approach when leading a city youth orchestra that was struggling with a difficult piece of music. The conductor never once corrected the orchestra by stating what was wrong or bad about their performance, instead, he demonstrated how the performance would sound if performed correctly. This form of teaching avoided negative criticism while setting a positive example for the students. 

This must also occur in business. Instead of ridiculing mistakes made in the past, make sure the positive outcome of potential future changes is emphasized. In essence, instead of telling people the wrongs they’ve committed, share the good that can come by making recommendations. 

4 - Be succinct.

Too many words can be damaging in making a case. The fewer the words, the better a message will be received. From the world of selling, don’t oversell a position. Listen well and speak little; be to the point using few, but valuable, words.

5 - Stay on point.

When presenting an argument or position, stay off unwanted soap boxes. In other words, don’t wander off the subject at hand and pontificate on unrelated topics. Such wandering is a quick way to have an audience begin yawning and rolling their eyes.

6 - Let it go.

State your case and then let it go. All too often, people have a tendency to hang onto things beyond the welcomed time limit and long after the decision has been made. Through my own experiences, one very great boss encouraged me to keep on teaching but be willing to let people make a few mistakes on the way. My problem was that I wouldn’t let people take the chance of failing, which could be the best way of validating my lesson. No matter how convincing an argument, it is possible that not everyone is going accept the recommendation. These are the lessons learned the hard way, but they will listen next time.

7 - Check for agreement and then deliver.

When presenting ideas, the presenter should make sure to always confirm with an audience that they are on an acceptable track of work. They should not take off on projects without approval by those whom the project may affect, as this can lead to negative feelings and potentially hinder the effectiveness of an argument. When the scope of an activity matches up with audience expectations, then a presenter can be sure that a message will be heard. 

The author is national flat glass sales manager for Sika Corp., and the author of the book “Winning at Business.” He can be reached at tompkins.carl@sika-corp.com.