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One prevailing reason for how to categorize input relies on common purpose. Most enterprises organize around common purpose.

For example, treasury operations organize around the purpose of financial capital; human resources organize around the purpose of human capital; and marketing organizes around the purpose of products and services. Force your participants to make thinking visible.

Evidence-based Foundation

Similarly, three forms of support for business argumentation include:

How to Make Thinking Visible -- Three Forms of Business Argumentation Support

How to Make Thinking Visible

  1. Evidence,
  2. Values, and
  3. Credibility

When challenging meeting and workshop participants to make their ‘thinking visible’, use active listening and reflection to repeat WHY they believe themselves to be true. Isolate the proof behind their claims understanding that you will likely need to reflect on the evidence, values, or credibility they provide to strengthen their claim. Let us take a closer look at the three forms.


Much is written about evidence, and while the following is not exhaustive, business arguments typically rely on three types of evidence to support claims, namely:

  1. Surrogates
  2. Trends
  3. Vision


Surrogates provide examples and work through analogy to support arguments. Meeting participants might refer to competitors for example, as surrogates for their own organization. Examples might not even come from within the industry, but may derive from an analogous situation. Some clothing dry cleaners introduced drive-up service, having viewed the success of a surrogate industry, the fast food industry.


Statistics are frequently used to support business arguments. Since proof about future conditions cannot be established, support is provided for likelihood and probabilities. As you know, historical performance does not prove future performance. The value of statistics derives from trend lines.

Historical performance and statistics provide lagging indication, when time has passed and nothing can be done to reverse the past. Linked together however, tends appear to support the likelihood or probability of future performance. As a facilitator, be prepared to further challenge the assumptions from historical performance that may be carried over to support future claims.


When leadership establishes visionary claims, such as establishing “world-class” or “best-of-breed” aspirations, meeting participants will use the vision to support their claims. Visionary arguments may be similar to arguments supported by values, in that they are likely to be more fuzzy than SMART.

Organization goals and objectives capture measurements toward the vision, and will be used to support many arguments. If participants can make clear claims for example, that their positions will generate the most profit, most will support them if their claims are clear and valid.


Operating a similar fashion to vision, values also drive “board room to boiler room” behavior and will be used to support arguments. An organization focused on “safety” for example, may defer to the argument that claims to be the safest approach, if everything else is held constant.

As a facilitator, strive to have the organizational values (also called Guiding Principles, Tenets, Elements, etc.) handy, and preferably posted for all to see. Likewise, having clear line of sight to enterprise, business unit, departmental, and project objectives can be leveraged to resolve arguments.


Credibility is “the perception that the arguer is competent and trustworthy, and has good will” (see “Argumentation and Critical Decision Making” by Rieke, Sillars, and Peterson, pg 280) toward the other meeting participants. Participants naturally give stronger adherence to other participants with greater credibility. Extensive research and other books and journals speak to the power of credibility. From a facilitator’s perspective, challenge even the credible to make their thinking visible. Make sure everyone in the meeting understands WHY the credible participant has formed his or her belief or claim.


Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH  professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.

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Facilitation Expert

Terrence Metz, CSM, PSPO, CSPF, is the Managing Director of MG RUSH Facilitation Training and Coaching, the acknowledged leader in structured facilitation training. His FAST Facilitation Best Practices blog features over 300 articles on facilitation skills and tools aimed at helping others lead faster, more productive meetings and workshops that yield higher quality decisions. His clients include Agilists, Scrum teams, program and project managers, senior officers, and the business analyst community among numerous private and public companies and global corporations. As an undergraduate of Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and MBA graduate from NWU’s Kellogg School of Management, his professional experience has focused on process improvement and product development. He continually aspires to make it easier for others to succeed.

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