Why should I present data that don’t support my argument?


“Why should I present data that don’t support my argument?” I get this question a lot.

Many people believe that presenting the other side of the argument will weaken theirs.

In my experience, presenting the counterpoint actually strengthens your argument.  It also helps build your credibility.

There are four reasons that presenting the counter argument is good data storytelling.

It’s ethical and responsible. While we all want people to agree with our recommendations, that shouldn’t be the ultimate goal.  It’s not about “winning”. The ultimate goal should be to help your organization make the best possible decisions. That requires providing decision-makers with all data that are relevant, regardless of whether the support or refute your argument.

And, if your case is so weak that you feel a need to hide some data, perhaps it’s not something you should be arguing in the first place.

In the long run, being known for transparency will serve you better than a few victories that were driven by misleading others.

It improves your recommendations.  No recommendation is perfect. If you haven’t found data that don’t support your recommendation, perhaps you were only seeking data that would.  That’s confirmation bias. It blinds us to problems and issues with our ideas.

Finding data that refutes your recommendation doesn’t mean that you have to abandon it. It just means that you have to think your idea through to figure out how to remove the barriers that might prevent it from succeeding.  Discovering and planning for those issues ahead of time is much more effective than getting caught off guard after the fact.

It makes you more credible. This may seem counter-intuitive.  How could showing the weaknesses in your idea make you credible? 

It does because addressing the weakness shows that you’ve fully thought through the problem.  It shows that you fully understand the problem, your recommendation, and its implications.

In addition, when people are willing to lay out the weakness of their argument, it shows how confident they must be in the positive aspects of it.

It keeps you in control. If you present the counterpoints, you control how they are discussed.  You get to decide how they are framed and, more importantly, how they are refuted.

When audience members raise a counterpoint, they take control of your presentation.  They can take it through a lot of twists and turns and down many rabbit holes.  They can bog down the rest of the audience in specific details that may or may not be relevant to the overall discussion.

Good decision making requires understanding all data that are relevant to a decision.  Whether those data support your argument or not, you have a responsibility to present them. However, there are a lot of positive ways to present the counter-points without derailing your presentation.

Tell a complete story.  Allow your decision makers make an INFORMED decision. In the long run, that’s the greatest value you can add to your organization.

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Brad Kolar is an Executive Consultant, Speaker, and Author with Avail Advisors.  Avail helps leaders simplify their problems, decisions, data, and communication. Avail has several tools and templates to help you tell your story while presenting all of the relevant facts in a positive, constructive way.  Contract Brad at brad.kolar@availadvisors.com.

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