Principle vs Specific arguments

Estimated reading time: 2 mins

I’m constantly reminded how a dynamic of argument and debate is in the wrong place. A recent issue cropped up where a colleague was pushing back to a technical supplier because insufficient information had been provided against a change request. The problem though was that the phrasing of the pushback was principle-based, i.e. he argued that the change request didn’t comply with standards (whether explicit or otherwise), yet the supplier hadn’t previously agreed the standards. So the argument becomes abstract, and doesn’t deal with the specific issues.

So I thought about this and realised that this is often a source of conflict, debate and mostly wasted energy. Principle-based arguments are only effective if both sides have previously agreed the principles. I am not saying that they are pointless, in fact no, principle-based arguments are essential if you’re striving for new standards or application of new methodologies and technologies. Adherence to standards is essential in today’s business climate.
But if standards and principles haven’t been agreed or are at best implicit, then arguing for them will get the other side’s back up, or if you’re lucky, just leave them confused.

If you find yourself in a situation where you feel an agreed standard is compromised, then you should argue for it. If you find yourself in a similar situation where what you consider as standard is compromised, but it hasn’t been agreed, then try pointing out the specifics of what needs to be improved but compromise this time, and maybe the next, and if you’re generous, the next time too, but then argue that the other side should have enough experience to know what standard is expected. E.g. you could say that ‘document x doesn’t mention how you would roll back that change, but we’ll let it slide this time but make sure it’s included in the next document.’

Consider this approach next time you feel something isn’t to standard and it may mean the difference between conflict and progress.

If you need help or advice on the management of process change or the implementation of standards, then contact me on

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