Dealing with a stubborn coworker is something most of us dread. “Oh man, I have to talk to that guy again, ugh…” you tell yourself, especially in cases where you don’t have much leverage on the situation or the person.
And sometimes, the person you deal with seems somewhat reasonable, but the two of you see things so differently that you can’t seem to reach any agreement or even start to understand why your respective conclusions are so far apart.
Imagine you’re at work and you’re facing some of the following conversations:
- An engineer tells you he strongly believes that project X doesn’t make any sense, because technology W is not good enough for it.
- A product manager tells you he is absolutely convinced that using a certain approach to roll out a new feature is doomed to failure.
- An engineering manager who reports to you is saying that without any doubts, person P on her team is really not good enough and is underperforming.
Ever been in a situation like that? I bet you have.
And what do these situations have in common? They’re all opinions and beliefs that people are dumping on you without context or facts.
When faced by such a situation, it’s tempting to shove it into someone’s face that they’re wrong, and press it to the point that it’s painful for them. There’s a certain satisfaction that we all get from “being right.” I know it, because I’ve done this myself in the past, and I’m not proud of it.
That’s also what most people do: they just reply with whatever opinions they have in their own minds at that moment. And the hope is that after some time of throwing opinions at each other’s face, the argument is going to sort itself out and help the two parties come to an agreement, or at least, to an understanding.
But reality is often very different from that, and without a more structured and pragmatic approach to such conversations, you’ll end up making decisions based on social status, feelings, beliefs, and personal preferences, which is the total opposite of what you want to do if you wish to make rational decisions.
My intent with this article is to introduce you to a conversation technique called street epistemology.
Many introductions to street epistemology have been written, and my key contribution here is to localize the technique so you can learn to use it specifically in a work environment. In particular, it will do wonders with colleagues with whom you have little leverage, generally because they are above you in the org chart—like your manager or your manager’s manager—or because they sit in a sister organization in which you have little political weight.
In this article, I will first briefly cover some examples of epistemologies to give you more context, then I’ll give you a step-by-step guide on how to use street epistemology in a workplace environment. Finally, I have added plenty of links and materials at the end of this article if you want to dive further into the topic.