Your title is not an argument

Yesterday I spoke to a colleague who was enraged by his boss starting sentences with:

As your manager, I have to tell you…

It’s obvious why this phrase rubs off badly: The manager was overriding any counter-argument before it had been voiced, and worse, did it by emphasizing the unequal distribution of power. That day the manager undid months of work building up trust and establishing a bottom-up culture with one sentence.

The day after shaking my head about the thoughtlessness of the manager, I became guilty of the same fallacy - though luckily not as manager: In a particularly heated discussion with a product manager, I was desperate enough to resort to the magic bullet:

As front end developer, I find option two to be the only valid choice.

I struggled to explain the technical debt which would be incurred by the PMs preferred option, as it lay deep down in some data layer, and the discussion was moving too fast for me to think how to best explain the code-inferred blockage. I’m lucky to work with experienced colleagues. Marcus, the PM, did not let me get through with this blatant attempt to close the discussion. For twenty minutes he insistingly asked the “why” question, until we had laid out the actual arguments behind my opinion in a way that everyone understood them. Together we found a new option with the benefits of the PM’s approach without the technical debt.

If you are an expert, it’s easy to fall back to your expertise as argument. And if you’re respected, your colleagues will accept your position without further explanation once, twice, thrice, until your credibility credit is used up. In the end there’s no better way to convince a motivated team of experts than with a well-laid out argumentation. Only when you are able to use your expertise to convince people’s minds for the better, your knowledge’s value is unlocked.

TLDR

  1. Be aware whenever you hear a sentence following the pattern “As [expertise / position], I…”.
  2. A leader relying on his / her position to force decisions their way will either be removed from their position soon or lose the team along the way.
  3. As an expert it’s crucial that you can explain your reasoning to non-experts. Otherwise you don’t bring value to your team.