First be likeable, then be right

I have been having a debate at my work about a policy question.  Even though I am right on the substance, I am losing the debate because the others involved in the discussion do not like me.  This has been a very valuable lesson for me.  It is not enough to be right, you have to be likeable first.  The reality is people will reject what you have to say if they don’t like you, even when you are right.  It is useless to be right if your message is rejected.  I could bemoan how unfair it is and become indignant about the whole thing or I can accept that this is how things work and do something about it.

So why don’t they like me?  Several reasons.  First, I am new so I have not yet proven myself to them.  Second, I am stepping beyond “my place” by doing things that normally somebody in my position would not do.  Third, I am publicly taking positions that run counter to their positions, and so therefore I am undermining their message.  Fourth, I made the mistake of calling into question others’ intentions, blaming them, and accusing them of arrogance (not the people I am actually debating, but those they are defending.  But since they are defending those people, indirectly it is as if I am questioning those I am debating with).  So I actually come across as the one who is arrogant and unprofessional.  Because they don’t like me, they then are motivated to find reasons to reject what I have to say or they are more inclined to believe arguments against me because they don’t want to see me win the argument.

In situations like this, it is sometimes best to just accept defeat and offer the victory.  But when the question being debated is important and affects the well being of many people, sometimes you have to continue and make your case.  But before people will re-engage you on the substance, you first have to address the likeability question.

How do you make yourself likeable?  You have to first admit your mistakes as perceived by the other person without being heavy or dramatic about the whole thing, then demonstrate your pure intentions, then acknowledge where the other person is right, then recontextualize your arguments in a different light, then take a position that fully accounts for all the different ways the other person is right yet you have a bigger view on the question.  So they are right from one narrower point of view, you are right from the larger point of view.  Oh, and it helps to make arguments that are irrefutable!

Another very useful tactic is to change the nature of the game from being a debate between two or more sides to being a common project aimed at reaching a consensus.  In Tibet, apparently spiritual debate was quite common and everybody knew how to relate to it as a process of finding deeper truths.  But here in the West, debate usually becomes about a clash of egos with clear winners and losers.  I believe it is for this, and many other reasons, that Venerable Geshe-la eliminated spiritual debate as such from the tradition and replaced it with more of a consensus driven discussion.  The goal of our discussions during the foundation program, teacher training and international teacher training programs is to reach a consensus that we can all agree to.  This changes the goal of the exercise from being conflictual to being useful and consensual.  Then, instead of fighting with people, you can work with them on a common project, they can realize your nature, come to appreciate and like you, and thereby become more amenable to your point of view.  If you acknowledge and fully incorporate their insights and point of view into your own, then they will be far more open to do the same towards you.

Your turn:  Describe some situation where because you were likeable somebody gave you the benefit of the doubt and let you have your way.

4 thoughts on “First be likeable, then be right

  1. Thanks again Ryan, another good reminder for me. I have to believe its ok to be right and to stand up for truth. If others are upset because of this it’s important for me to remember how it hurts to be shown your wrong view, and how much it hurts to accept change. I find it easy to forget this when on the side of being right. I will think more on the idea of everyone being on a consensus side and see if this helps, rather than just being right which of course I am most attached to.

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