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There are numerous occasions when we find that we must challenge others. These may be personal occasions, or office situations. Challenging may be done to peers, juniors and sometimes seniors as well.
Challenging means that we take a position which is different from the other persons. It may be a technical point, a factual error, or an ideological thing. Depending upon the intensity of difference, the counter argument may get heated up.
Emotions are a natural part of response to other people, and they are the reason for heating the argument. Emotions are also the reason for becoming unreasonable rather quickly. We now see it happening every day on social media where people forget basic manners, courtesy, morality, and ethics while replying to someone they disagree with.
Recently, Dorie Clark, whom I have mentioned here on some occasions, referred to an article written by her last year and published in Fast Company. The trigger to this article was someone’s response to her which she considered so thoughtful that she decided to research and write some tips for challenging others thinking in a more appropriate way. Link to article is here.
Dorie Clark recommends three points to help challenge others’ thinking in a positive way.
Do Not Assume Intent – It is common that one or more persons in an argument/decision would say on their behalf, ‘I think you mean this’. In a group talk, someone may say, ‘I think he means this’. This is assumption at its worst. We may be able to understand others’ point of view in a general way, but it would be mostly imprecise. Rather than speaking on others’ behalf, we should speak for ourselves.
The key learning is not to start with assumption of intent. We only see and hear which shows and is heard. We cannot accurately see the intent behind the argument. It is therefore better to ask for clarification, rather than assuming the intent.
When we assume the intent of the person, we may end up confusing things and it may sound that we are accusing the other person. Accusation leads to counteraccusation. The real point is lost, and the argument may get out of control.
Express Understanding – this is a golden rule in any situation; however, it is particularly useful when we feel offended. Empathy says we first try to understand the position of the other person, their situation when they said or did a certain thing, and their feelings about the subject.
Challenging is a hard thing, but it may be softened by empathy. Before we react, we may say something to express our understanding about difficulty of the situation, and the need for challenging all the same. Our empathetic approach can get the argument heard better and may be accepted more easily.
Emphasize the Importance of Conversation – the first impulse is to see challenge as a criticism. In more severe cases, it may be considered an offence. In the worst cases, it may be taken as a signal for fighting. Of course, we do not wish to get into any of this, and it is therefore necessary to emphasize why this conversation is important.
Setting up the context shall help to reduce the intensity and possible toxicity.
The simple measures given above shall greatly help in challenging the other people’s whenever it may be necessary. It will lead to meaningful conversation, constructive analysis, and positive outcome.
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