There’s no lack of persuasion and persuaders in our daily lives. Advertisers bombard us with dozens of pitches each day. Politicians promote and promise every chance they get – especially in election years. Even supervisors and coworkers attempt to convince and coax us with ideas and proposals in an attempt to run a more efficient and effective company and workplace.
But just because something is articulated well doesn’t mean it makes sense. And just because it sounds reasonable doesn’t mean it is well thought out and logical. Many times in business conversations we’re presented with an idea or argument that, quite frankly, doesn’t meet the reason-ability test – the ability to be reasonable.
If you can identify and expose these irrationalities, you can avoid falling victim to their consequences and be prepared to deliver an appropriate response. Here are a few of the more prominent scenarios involving lapses in logic:
This reasoning insists on considering all ideas as a package deal where we have to accept all of it or none of it. “This product needs to meet either all our needs or we’ll reject it.” “We have to reward either everyone who makes an exceptional contribution to this project or no one.”
Things are seldom all right or all wrong. Few products can meet all of your needs. And just because you reward one person for work above and beyond their usual performance level doesn’t mean you have to reward everyone. Take the time to look deeper into a statement and see if there are special examples that can apply to an all-or-nothing proposal.
Generalizing From a Single Incident
The sales managers in Houston and San Antonio tell their supervisor at the main office that they don’t feel fully informed about the instructions on the new ad campaign. The supervisor comments to a colleague that there seems to be a problem because all the sales managers feel confused about an important new ad initiative.
It may be that there is a communication problem with the main office, a few sales managers, and even how new product information is disseminated. But just because one or two managers register a complaint doesn’t mean all of them feel that way.
Overextending or Force-Fitting an Analogy
Have you ever heard someone use an analogy to explain how two things are alike – and then they get carried away? “A maintenance agreement on your copier is like an insurance policy on your automobile.” Yes, there are similarities that would help someone understand the idea of a prepaid maintenance agreement, but it doesn’t follow that the two arrangements are alike in every way.
Continuing to belabor an analogy beyond appropriateness in order to make a point is faulty reasoning. Be discriminating in what parts of the analogy are applicable and which aren’t and don’t be forced to accept an idea just because it is convenient within the confines of a verbal comparison.
Stating Without Proof
“That manager has been delinquent in dealing with safety issues.” Where’s the proof? What specific incidents have gone unresolved? “Frank has no ambition to move up in the company.” What evidence supports this conclusion? Calling a process “the worst ever” or equipment “state of the art” doesn’t make it so.
When you hear opinions, especially extreme or all inclusive, be on the alert for specific, verifiable examples to back up the point. Otherwise, wait until you get more information until you make up your mind on the issue.
Confusing Sequence with Cause and Effect
A demanding regional manager joins the company August 1 as head of Hank’s department. Hank resigns on August 31. Someone from another department concludes, “It’s pretty obvious Hank left because he had difficulty working with the new manager.”
In this case, chronology may have little or nothing to do with the result. Or everything. Check for gaps in logic or possibilities of coincidence before you make up your mind.
Not everything you hear in business conversations is communicated clearly, completely, and accurately. But you don’t have to assume everyone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes either. Be wise, take a moment and listen to the totality of a statement, and then follow the logic.
In other words, just be reasonable.