Luckily, Greta had a mouthful of salad and couldn't respond immediately to Walt's "You argued for the opposite position on Marigold." If she could have responded, she realized, she would have fallen into Walt's trap. While he continued on, she finished chewing, and then carefully set down her fork. Then she let him have it.
"Whether I took a different position on Marigold doesn't matter. The question now is: should we use Houston for Metronome, or should we do the work here? I admit that I'm an imperfect human being, as I'm sure you would admit that you are too, but the question is: can Houston do the job?"
Silence around the table. Walt seemed a little stunned. Greta picked up her fork and resumed work on her salad.
Walt has just paid the price for using a type of rhetorical fallacy known as an ad hominem attack. It's powerful and it can lead a group into a wilderness of confusion and sloppy thinking, where bad decisions are born.
Many of us are unprepared for ad hominem attacks. Even if we are prepared, in the heat of debate we can forget what we know. There are three common forms of the ad hominem fallacy.
- Ad hominem abusive
- This is a The ad hominem attack
is powerful, and it can
lead to sloppy thinking
and bad decisionsdirect attack on your humanity. The logic: You're a rotten person; therefore your assertion is false. Example: The last project you managed was 30% over budget, so I don't believe your projections on this one.
- Ad hominem tu quoque
- The tu quoque form tries to demonstrate that you're inconsistent or hypocritical. The logic: You once said something different; therefore you aren't credible; therefore your assertion is false. Walt tried this one on Greta.
- Circumstantial ad hominem
- The circumstantial form is an attack on your associations — your job, your heritage, or other affiliations. The logic: You have rotten friends; therefore your assertion is false. Example: Since you're a hardware engineer, your suggestion that we fix this in the software is wrong.
What can you do about an ad hominem?
- Don't defend yourself or respond in kind
- If you defend yourself or respond in kind you'll only help your partner take the discussion off point. Instead, get back to the issues. Greta did it masterfully.
- If you're a spectator, identify it
- As a spectator identify the ad hominem to the group — you have more credibility than the target does, because you aren't directly under attack. And you have a right to demand that the debaters stick to the issues.
- If you notice yourself doing it, stop
- Better debates start with you. If you slip up, apologize to your partner. If not immediately, then later, privately.
During a debate, identifying an ad hominem attack against yourself is risky. Instead, get back to the issues — pointing out your partner's fallacious tactics could be an ad hominem attack in itself. Top Next Issue
For more on ad hominem attacks, see "Some Subtleties of ad hominem Attacks," Point Lookout for November 14, 2012.
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenNCZIPVlsLQvLBCaaner@ChacCvATVEZhCaVoStGDoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Excuses, Excuses
- When a goal remains unaccomplished, we sometimes tell ourselves that we understand why. And sometimes
we do. But at other times, we're just fooling ourselves.
- Embolalia and Stuff Like That: II
- Continuing our exploration of embolalia — filler syllables, filler words, and filler phrases —
let us examine the more complex forms. Some of them are so complex that they appear to be actual content,
even when what they contain is little more than "um."
- Team Risks
- Working in teams is necessary in most modern collaborations, but teamwork does carry risks. Here are
some risks worth mitigating.
- Avoid Having to Reframe Failure
- Yet again, we missed our goal — we were late, we were over budget, or we lost to the competition.
But how can we get something good out of it?
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: I
- Some organizations try to run too many development projects at once. Whether developing new offerings,
or working to improve the organization itself, taking on too many projects can defocus the organization
and depress performance.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 23: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IX
- An arrogant demeanor is widely viewed as a hallmark of the narcissist. But truly narcissistic arrogance is off the charts. It's something beyond the merely annoying arrogance of a sometimes-obnoxious individual. What is narcissistic arrogance and how can we cope with it? Available here and by RSS on May 23.
- And on May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEQTYntWLASWgSePPner@ChacfSqpwzfWIdxhgazMoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Technical Debt Management: Making the Business Case
- This program
outlines the steps necessary for deploying a program for rational management of technical debt. For
many organizations, adopting a program for rationally managing technical debt entails organizational
change. And unlike some organizational changes, this one touches almost everyone in the organization,
because technical debt isn't merely a technical problem. Technical debt manifests itself in technological
assets, to be sure, but its causes are rarely isolated to the behavior and decisions of engineers. We
can't resolve the problem of chronically excessive levels of technical debt by changing the behavior
of engineers alone. Technical debt is the symptom, not the problem. In this program we outline the essential
elements of an effective business case for adopting a rational technical debt management program. But
this business case, unlike many business cases, cannot be captured in a document. We must make the case
not only at the leadership level of the organization, but also at the level of the individual contributor.
Everyone must understand. Everyone must contribute. We explore five issues that make technical debt
so difficult to manage, and develop five guidelines for designing technical debt management strategies
for the modern enterprise. Read more about
this program. Here's a date for this program:
- Wyndham Springfield City Centre, 700 East Adams Street, Springfield,
Illinois 62701: June 12,
Monthly Meeting, Central
Illinois Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Wyndham Springfield City Centre, 700 East Adams Street, Springfield, Illinois 62701: June 12, Monthly Meeting, Central Illinois Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- The Race to the South Pole: The Power of Agile Development
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald
Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen
had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished.
As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. Lessons abound. Among the more important
lessons are those that demonstrate the power of the agile approach to project management and product
development. Read more about this program. Here's
a date for this program:
- Fifth Third Bank, 5717 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227:
Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati
chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- Fifth Third Bank, 5717 Madison Road, Cincinnati, OH 45227: July 17, Monthly Meeting, Cincinnati chapter of the International Institute of Business Analysis. Register now.
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
- Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
- You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
- I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
- A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
- …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.