Innovation through conflict: Why you should be more argumentative

Written by Simon Lockwood on 16 January 2019 in Opinion
Opinion

No you shut up! Simon Lockwood explains why a little conflict can be a good thing (but not like that).

Reading time: 5 minutes.

What drives you to work hard and be the best you can be? Passion? Rewards? Recognition? Whatever it is that gets you to where you want to be, everyone has what I like to call ‘drivers’ and for some, those drivers come in the form of conflict.

Butting heads and offering contradictory opinions flies in the face of all it is to be British, however it’s something we need to start changing if we want to be more pioneering.

Avoiding conflict, although amicable, rarely leads to new and innovative results. War time for example, despite its dark and gruesome nature, has always been a period of incredible technological surges, ideological incubation and ground-breaking innovation.

 

This is something more people should make use of in their everyday lives (constructive conflict, not war crimes!) to help them overcome those issues that, at times, seem insurmountable.

Being tenacious is all well and good, but before you go and relentlessly yell at Gavin from marketing about that awful campaign he has planned, there are a few things to note that will help you avoid argumentative dead ends, and reach solutions through open and constructive debate.

Don’t take it personally

All the great stories of success are littered with failures, knock backs and often downright humiliation, so a thick skin is important when it comes to constructive conflict. Remember, your idea is external to you, so someone shooting it down isn’t necessarily a personal attack. Keep a cool head, listen to any feedback and take it on board.

That being said, it’s important to remain professional and constructive when arguing your case. The first sign of a failing argument is the onset of aggression, so avoid raising your voice, insulting your opposing debater or triggering resistance and defensiveness, something that’s extremely hard to come back from.

All the great stories of success are littered with failures, knock backs and often downright humiliation, so a thick skin is important when it comes to constructive conflict.

That doesn’t mean you need to tiptoe around what you want to say, it just means your comments should be considered and raise genuine concerns, giving your opponent a chance to clarify or counter, rather than being completely dismissed.

One of the best ways to do this is posing your comment as a question. Rather than saying: ‘That idea won’t work because of X’ say ‘How will that idea work when it comes to X?’. This not only allows you to raise any concerns, it shows that you have listened and are genuinely keen to dig deep into what is being discussed.

This will also help to disarm your opponent and avoid them feeling they have been dismissed without a fair hearing. Allowing people to come to their own realisations about where they may have gone wrong will result in a much more amicable person to deal with than one who has been plainly told they are wrong.

Stand your ground

Whenever you offer what you feel is a great idea, expect kickback. No matter how good you feel it sounds, not everyone has spent as much time considering your idea as you have, so imagine you are trying to enlighten them rather than persuade.

 

Keep things clear and concise and be prepared to counter any points they may raise. This will show them that your idea is not a half-baked concept, but a well thought-out and considered strategy.

Be open minded and listen

If you expect others to hear you out when standing your ground, it’s only fair that you afford them the same luxury. It’s important to stick to your convictions, but possibly more important to ensure that even your most fervently held beliefs offer some flexibility so as to avoid closed mindedness.

It’s easy to zone out when someone is countering your point. Often people are too busy thinking of their next retort to actually pay attention, leading to various streams of the argument arising and resulting in a pointless exchange of loosely connected comments that gets nobody anywhere.

Keep things focused by regularly validating your opponent’s perspective, expertise and feelings, while subtly realigning the topic of debate to suit your argument. This will help you keep things on track without bruising any egos.

Take time to absorb

No matter how passionate you are, arguing is a strenuous activity. It requires huge amounts of mental strain, patience and listening and after an hour or so, can become quite draining. That’s why it’s important to table arguments once the quality of debate inevitably starts to wane.



Revisiting an argument not only allows you to avoid burnout, it also gives you time to absorb the information in a less hostile environment where your mind is naturally more receptive to challenging ideas.

It can be difficult to concede an argument you have fought so hard for, but taking some time away can do wonders at helping you to realise where you may have been wrong, in a less charged setting. It’s ok to be wrong, so long as you learn from the experience. Speakers Corner MD, Nick Gold’s concept that mistakes can in fact be beneficial explains this point nicely:

“When I think about healthy argument and innovation, I think about the biggest piece of advice I like to give: make mistakes. Mistakes should be encouraged, not feared!

"Making mistakes means we can all have an open debate and think about how to rectify things going forward. Hearing multiple voices contribute to an issue not only allows us to find solutions but to surpass our initial expectations.”

Next time you have a point to raise or a comment to challenge, remember that constructive debate is not only healthy, it’s imperative for innovation. Don’t agree with me? Let’s argue about it!

 

About the author

Simon Lockwood is creative director at The Brewery.

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