Communication in the Workplace – Looking for the Focus of Argument

by Diane M. Hoffmann, ph.d./th.

How does one communicate with another who has never been trained in effective communication? It is hard for the one to lead the conversation into the right direction if both people are on a different Focus of Argument. One is arguing from the point of view of his own focus and the other from a totally different focus. What is the right focus of argument?

I was working on a temporary assignment for a company where my job was to prepare financial presentation charts. Financial managers would insert their data into a common drive on the network system and construct their charts.

At the corporate operations end, which is where I was, the goal was to standardize the different styles and formats in which these charts came in from their different original sources. One of the managers who had been asked to change certain aspects of his monthly charts went ahead and added a whole new set instead, and made changes to already approved standards. Not only did his department now have two sets of charts on the common drive, but merging the two required major work because of the inconsistencies of his changes.

When I brought up the problem, it came to the attention of one of the computer operators who was involved with the manager's charts. This operator took the side of the manager and argued that it didn't matter if the charts were changed and that managers had the right to develop their own charts as they wished. But the problem was "bringing the two sets of non-compatible charts back into one set". That was the Focus of Argument, not whether or not managers had the right to develop their own charts.

No matter how I tried to make the point clear that we were not arguing the changes in the new charts, but that we now had to amalgamate two sets of charts into one in the best possible way, while keeping the necessary data from the point of view of both the department manager and corporate operations. But the operator created his own focus of argument and got "stuck" on it for the rest of the discussion. He became more and more entrenched in his own focus, to the point where he walked away, back to his desk unnecessarily shaking his head.

Had both people focused on the same purpose for the discussion -- the same Focus of Argument -- a workable corporate solution would have been reached.

Those who are lucky enough to have been taught effective communication by their parents or their teachers in school will have a rewarding head start later in life. Those who have not had this privilege will have to acquire it as they move into jobs; it will then be their own responsibility and the responsibility of management to make it a subject of training and nurturing.

In our case here, the computer operator has never been trained in effective communication. It would be hard for the corporate staff to lead the conversation into the right direction, because both are on a different Focus of Argument. That's why the responsibility for setting the right environment for good communication falls on top management.

As I always say, communication is a two-way street. Yet half of us communicate on a one-way stretch most of the time. To have success in argument and communication in the Workplace is to train people to recognize and look for the common Focus of Argument./dmh

Article Copyright(c)Diane M. Hoffmann. You may print this article making sure to include the following bio without any changes.

Diane M. Hoffmann is the founder of Hoffmann-Rondeau Communications and author of the 296-page printed book "Contextual Communication, Organization and Training". Diane also provides a 2-part e-book version of her printed book, "Improve Communication, Verbal and Nonverbal" and "Improve Communication, Organization and Training" as well as many free articles which can be seen at her blog at

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