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Pound the Facts, Not the Table
Dennis Ė President, Effective Engineering [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Have you been involved in discussions where people relate stories with high
emotional content that may get you charged up and ready to jump on board
with them, only to later hear facts come out that undermine the emotional
impulse and make you feel foolish for jumping to conclusions that were not
supported by the facts? At the end of such an episode, you generally feel
taken in and mislead. Such episodes will most often undermine the feeling
of trust you may have had for the person making the emotional appeal (see
eN-080207 Ė Trust Me, Iím Not Like The Others!).
There's an old adage among lawyers that says, "If you have the facts
on your side, pound the facts. If you have the law on your side, pound the
law. If you have neither on your side, pound the table!" The
approach in business and engineering, at least inside a company, is not by
design an adversarial system as is the practice of law, and pounding the
table is not appreciated and will almost never get you what you want. It is
far more effective to convince people with facts and logic, and not with
emotion and feelings.
Emotions are often transitory. You may get swept up in the moment. ďWin
this one for the team!Ē may stir the emotions and incite actions, but if
those actions turn out to be unwarranted or even unlawful, you will feel
abashed and ashamed to have been taken in. Political and sporting events
are often loaded with high emotions and strong feelings, but facts and logic
are often missing in action.
Facts, on the other hand, are not transitory, and facts are stubborn
things. You may be entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled
to your own facts. Facts donít change when you change your opinion. Facts
wonít be impressed by an emotional display or presentation. Facts just
are. Logic plays into this as well. A well presented argument based on
facts and logic can easily disembowel an argument based on emotion and
feelings that is not backed by facts or logic. In the heat of the moment
this may be difficult to realize, but a reasoned assessment will always
favor facts and logic.
Would you want a loved one to receive a medical treatment based on an
emotional argument only to find out afterwards that the treatment did
irreversible damage that would have been obvious if you had all the facts in
advance? No, you want to make an informed decision based on facts, logic,
research and whatever other information you can find before you make a
potentially life altering decision, especially if it involves a loved one or
Would you embark on a trip not knowing how to get to your destination or the
best method of travel? If itís a short distance away and youíve been there
before, maybe youíll simply jump in your car and drive. But if itís not,
you donít just jump in your car and start driving, even if you have a GPS.
You look at where you want to go, see how much time you have, look at
alternative means of travel, evaluate the cost of the different means of
travel, see how much money youíll need, and do the many other steps required
to make a rational choice. Emotion should not drive the decision, even if
youíre feeling emotional. You need to take some time to think.
So how does this relate to you in your work life?
You may believe in your heart that a particular course of action is the
right thing to do, but what you believe is simply not enough. Another
person on your team may believe as strongly as you in the opposite course of
action. Determining who is right and who is wrong is where facts and logic
Make your case and be prepared to defend it based on a well reasoned logical
and fact-based presentation. Make sure what you believe to be the facts are
indeed facts and not just someoneís opinion. Verify all of your facts and
get independent verification from others. Make sure your logic makes sense
and supports the facts, and again get someone else to validate your logic.
Think through your case and all other likely cases. Demonstrate how the
facts support your case and why they donít support the other cases.
If your approach is indeed the most compelling case based on the facts and
logic, make it forcefully and logically. Demonstrate by the strength of the
facts and logic why yours is the best case. Do not undermine or ridicule
opposing views. Ridiculing others will only alienate them, and is
unnecessary and unwarranted. Let your case rest on its own merits. Instead
of ridicule, show where opposing cases do make sense and how elements of
those cases may even strengthen your solutions to give an even better and
more robust approach. You will want to bring others willingly into your
team. Praising them will entice them to join the team for the betterment of
You may learn along the way that yours is not the strongest case based on
the facts and the logic. If so, be prepared to admit it and throw your
support behind the case that does make the most sense. You will be seen as
a stronger person if you can recognize the flaws in your own argument and
the strengths in another argument.
The goal of any organization is to develop the best product and the best
approach that will lead to success and profits (see also
eN-030522 Ė Keep your Eyes on THE GOAL!). A well thought-out
and logical plan based on a full understanding of the facts is critical to
accomplish this goal. In working toward this goal, remember always to
pound the facts and not the table!
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Effective Engineering Consulting Services, All Rights Reserved