Leading Difficult People, Part 4: The Argumentative Person

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April 20, 2021

Argumentative people find energy and excitement in conflict. They are always willing to argue and fight, and they look for people who’ll step into the ring.

Sometimes it’s actually good to have people like this around. They can help us refine our logic and strengthen our resolve. Organizational studies have found that when CEOs are looking to nominate their own execs to be board members at another company, they tend to nominate those who have been somewhat argumentative rather than “yes people” who agree with any idea that arises without challenging it first.

But argumentative people who don’t know how to use this part of their personality constructively can sow discord on a team. Such people are disagreeable no matter the topic, and they desire to punish or embarrass their challengers or competition. They carry a black-and-white, “us vs. them” view of the world. Should you dare to question them, you may find yourself squarely in the “them” camp.

When dealing with someone who has an argumentative personality style, my experience has taught me that there is a successful path.

3 Steps for Dealing with Argumentative People

  1. Prepare to be persistent. Prepare for a long road. Remember that the argumentative person is energized by the fight. You must accept that convincing them is likely to take more than one meeting — and maybe more than several meetings. Set your expectations accordingly.
  2. Collect data and evidence. Bring objective data from a source that they If you are pitching a new service, show objective data on how it is working elsewhere. If it’s a completely new, untried idea, create an “experiment” to collect initial data. If you are pitching a new product, create a proof of concept. Always be willing to listen to their objections and find ways to overcome those objections over time.
  3. Build a coalition. As you collect data and evidence, enlist others in the company who can support the idea. Get their perspectives. See what other data and evidence they may offer to convince the argumentative person.

Ultimately, the goal is to provide enough information that the argumentative person can change their perspective and see the world from another angle.

‘Difficult’ Can Be Useful

I hope this series on leading difficult people has provided you with concrete steps that you are already putting to use. Remember that, like the argumentative person, all of these personality styles exist on a continuum, and they are not always bad. The know-it-all can provide a kernel of needed information when you least expect it. The narcissist can deliver a shot of confidence to an uncertain team. The stubborn person can slow a process to take an additional look and prevent disaster. Leaders will always have to deal with team members who have difficult personality styles. The challenge is bringing employees with diverse styles together to collaborate and solve problems.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!

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