Argue Like You're Right, Listen Like You're Wrong

06/04/2015 01:16 pm ET | Updated Jun 04, 2016

Our recruiting team spends a great deal of time and does an excellent job explaining the 2U company culture and finding candidates who'll be a successful fit. When I try to distill it down, I always come back to a basic premise - argue like you're right and listen like you're wrong.

For me the first half captures passion, high-bar, speak up environment. The second half gets at trust and openness. Without the first, great ideas never get heard. Without the second, the first becomes an aggressive breeding ground for misery and fear.

Drive "argue like you're right, listen like you're wrong" from the top and creating a great company culture gets a lot easier.

If you expect your team to be passionate advocates, to speak up when they have a good idea or to be accountable for outcomes, you have to be open to hearing everything they have to say.
If you value your peers' opinions and accept that you're not always the smartest person in the room, the healthy (and even heated) debates help the company and help you.

If you want to continue to be relevant and innovative, you must be open to new ideas and to voices that improve what you already hold to be true.

Chances are, you've got one half down but not the other. It is difficult to master both. However, communication skills rank highly among employee's complaints about their workplaces and leaders must strive to improve their communication including listening skills.

If you already argue like you're right.

While the other person is talking, instead of using that time to formulate your next point or figuring out how to break down her argument, imagine you're going to have to defend her point of view later - what argument would you make to do that?

Compare what you're hearing to your own argument. It will help you identify where the true disagreements are. You might find out you're closer than you think to resolution.

Above all, listen to the entire argument on the other side. Even if you believe you know where the person is headed with the point, respect their voice enough to let them finish. You don't want to be the one who hears "I'm sorry for speaking while you were interrupting me."

If you already listen but need to speak up

When you are naturally an introvert or are simply gaining confidence in your voice in the workplace, you must find ways to argue like you're right or risk being unheard and unrecognized. Assess why you don't speak up and find places to take risks.

The easy path is to simply agree with what was already said and only echo other in the conversation. If that's the place you're most comfortable, you can start with what you've heard and add a new idea or evidence to the argument.

Root your arguments in your passion. Look for the discussions about the part of your job that holds the greatest personal motivation. Remember that you have advocates at work who will support your voice and value it.

Use your body language to help you enter the argument. By sitting forward and using simple hand gestures, others will see that you are about to make a point and it will create a natural opening.

By honing skills on both sides of argue like you're right, listen like you're wrong, you'll find more strength in your voice, greater respect from other's at work and surprising new ideas from encouraging the voices around you.