In the 1980’s, diet soda was thought to be a healthy alternative to regular soda (or pop, if you’re from Pittsburgh, as my dad’s family is).  I used to think I was making a healthier choice in drinking diet soda.  I would pat myself on the back for that healthy choice, and, if I am honest, maybe I looked a little askance at those who stuck with regular Coke.

These days, the science shows us that diet soda may actually be worse for us than regular, because its sweetening ingredients spark more cravings than we would have had if we’d just had the sugary version.  (And no shade, to my diet- and regular soda drinkers out there.  You do you.)

The point is that certainty never really serves anyone.  What was true twenty years ago may not be true today.  And today’s truth may not be so compelling tomorrow.

(See?  In the future, we’ll all be tracking our soda intake like we do with water today.  Did you get your eight glasses of root beer in, people?  There will be an app for that.)

Just like with our understanding of soft drinks, I see the fallacy of certainty play out in our efforts to persuade.

So often, we shore ourselves up to make the best argument possible.  And in doing so, we get a little lost in our certainty.  But what if we’re not completely right?What if, in fact, we are completely wrong?

Belief is good. Conviction is great. Certainty is dangerous.

Certainty is dangerous because it narrows your perspective.  It leads you to miss key points.  After all, what you are really pursuing is the truth, the right thing.  And when you come into a discussion clutching onto certainty, the truth will slip right between your tightly squeezed knuckles.

The good news is that you can shift how you prepare to persuade in such a way that will either make your argument stronger or get you closer to the truth.  It’s a win-win!

When preparing a persuasive argument, consider these questions.

Five Questions to Strengthen Your Persuasive Argument

1)        What might be my blind spots?

Spend time considering where it is that you lack information or visibility into this situation.

2)        Where does this person have a good point?

Your colleague has their set of beliefs for a reason.  Find their logic or some way you can see their point of view.

3)        What is important to this person?

Try to get in their shoes for a minute and understand what they value.  (Note: If your initial answer to this question paints them in an uncharitable light, challenge yourself to give them the benefit of the doubt.  Thinking of how they see themselves can help.  Nobody thinks of themselves as money-grubbing or self-serving, so try to see themselves as they would.)

4)        What is their biggest risk or challenge at work?

Understanding what they fear sheds a lot of light on what might be driving their motivations and behavior.

5)        How could your concerns be mitigated if your perspective doesn’t win the day?

In all likelihood, this isn’t as all-or-nothing as you initially thought.  Consider how your needs could be met without getting exactly what you wanted.

By answering these questions, you will better understand your weak spots as well as the perspective of the person or people you are engaging with.  This will either strengthen your argument or point you to a stronger one.

Sometimes, however, your best persuasive argument does not persuade.  Then what?

Then it is time to remember that sometimes we all just need to learn through experience.  Maybe that is something your colleague needs to experience.  And maybe it is something you need to experience.  Time will tell you which it is.

In her practice as a certified coach and facilitator, Wendy Hultmark, ACC, is a career detangler and cultivator of high-functioning teams. Join Wendy’s email community: