When to Back Out of a “Religious Debate”

Aug 2, 2017 | 212 Articles, 212 Media Studios

Positivity, love, and balance are more likely to help us achieve our objectives than using up our energy on disagreements. Only engage in a fight if it is worthwhile and serves a purpose.

After reading those sentences you’re likely checking the URL to make sure you’re still on a business blog and not a self-help page. Trust me­—you’re in the right place.

Conflict in business is real, and it can sometimes be spectacular (cue Jerry Seinfeld clip). And some conflict is necessary. It allows us to sharpen our data points, build more compelling strategies, and be challenged with the status quo. However, there are times when it’s unproductive and leads to negative feelings, especially from peers and colleagues. When you feel a conflict rising, decide if it is worth engaging in and, more importantly, what the “goal” of the argument will be. Will it accomplish something? If not, you might have identified a fight you can’t win, or as we sometimes refer to them, a “religious debate.”

In “religious debates,” the stakeholder has a firm footing in facts and data points (real or perceived) that are rooted in his DNA. The point he’s holding firmly is nearly immovable. If he changed his position, he’d likely lose a piece of his identity. These tend to be emotive or political topics, but many times they are simply a different view of the same facts, or based on culture, education, and background.

We have a client who fundamentally doesn’t believe in marketing as a strategy (don’t ask me how a marketing agency was lucky enough to get a client like this—that’s a story for another blog post). The principals believe it’s all about sales. Sales, more sales, and then sales. If you add some engineering and possibly operations to the mix, that’s okay; but make sure you add more sales. They can tell you all of the reasons why marketing isn’t a good investment, why it won’t work, and why they don’t need to spend money on it. After discussions with the owners (all different ages and genders), I realized this is cultural. They learned from their parents who started their company and made it successful.

If I actively engage with them to try to change this fundamental belief, what will it get me? Pain? Anguish? A broken relationship? A lost client? Nothing good will come from “winning” that argument. It’s better to walk away, find areas of common interest and belief, and slowly/subtly share data points and information that might help them come to a new realization over time. I can help them develop the idea on their own that marketing is valuable, important to invest in, and a strong complement to sales and engineering. And slowly they’ll realize how wrong they are (after all, it’s all about marketing—not sales!). Okay, I’m just kidding with that last sentence…

Ultimately, it’s not good form to argue with a client. You can disagree and share new facts or points of view. But read the situation, tone, and body language of your client. There’s no need to walk across the line to “win” because you will likely find you’ve actually lost. Don’t waste your precious time and energy fighting battles you can’t win—it’ll make your life and business much happier!

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