Fear is a very powerful emotion. And fear-mongering is one of the most effective attack strategies to kill good ideas. Fear-mongers raise anxiety and make a thoughtful examination of a proposal difficult, if not impossible. One very common fear-based counter-argument to a new idea is the claim: “You and your proposal are abandoning our core values.”
Now, let’s assume for argument’s sake that your proposal does not compromise your company’s values. Nevertheless, any hint that your idea jeopardizes something as sacred as the company’s values can be a show-stopping invocation. Suddenly, you are made to appear to the group as if you are arguing against the tradition, spirit, and foundation of your company. You ask yourself, “How did this happen?”, and more importantly, “How can I fix it?” The answer is relatively simple: Immediately reframe the discussion by calmly describing how your proposal actually upholds the company values.
Takeaway: Rebut the charge that your idea abandons traditional values.
This solution may seem obvious, but I’m dedicating a post to it because it is so often ignored, even by experienced people. Let’s consider an example: A chain of regional electronics stores (call it Joe’s) had for decades fiercely competed with another regional chain (call it Bob’s). Unexpectedly, Bob’s offered to buy Joe’s. The CEO of Joe’s carefully considered the offer and determined that it was in fact a good deal for Joe’s shareholders, employees, and consumers. When presenting his reasoning to Joe’s employees, however, the CEO was surprised to be faced with the “values dissent”. Someone shared a story of how Bob’s was supposedly once outrageously unfair to a customer. The dissenter argued that Joe’s “would never do that”, that Bob’s did not share Joe’s values, and concluded that the acquisition would compromise Joe’s deeply held beliefs. People at the meeting who initially had been nodding their heads at the CEO’s proposal stopped. The attack was working.
The most common (and ineffective) response would have been to dismiss the concern as a fallacy of composition: “That is a non-representative, isolated incident. You could probably find one similar, worrisome story about us out there somewhere.” But such a response would not have worked, because the attack had raised some fears in the audience, fears that are not necessarily soothed by a short, logical response.
The more effective alternative would be to describe how the acquisition was essential to uphold the company’s values. So the CEO explained: “You are correct on one part. I think all of us care deeply about serving our customers well. But whether we like it or not, huge national chains are moving into areas like ours, and they don’t necessarily have those same feelings. But they are very good at competition. Their size gives them buying power and lower costs. As we have seen, such companies can put regional chains like ours out of business. Then we would really be abandoning our values. This deal would make us more competitive, so we can be in a position to uphold our values and offer great customer service in the future.”
Of course, this is just one small example of how to defend against the charge that your idea abandons important, traditional values. The key takeaway is to take this fear-mongering attack and turn it around immediately, illustrating how your proposal is essential to upholding those values. After all, your proposal was designed with those values in mind, right?
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