Agency Arguments and Other Things to Be Thankful For
Last week, several of us were collaborating on web designs for an exciting client. As we huddled around Beth’s computer, Mike and I found ourselves in the middle of a very long and emphatic argument. And because the Atomicdust office is one giant open space, all of our coworkers were forced to witness the fight. Eyebrows shot up. Chairs slowly spun around to check out the commotion. People coughed uncomfortably. It was about as awkward as Thanksgiving dinner.
It wasn’t personal. We just disagreed on homepage copy. I felt that it could lean more aspirational, because visitors to the site would likely already know what the company does. Mike felt it should be more balanced, with copy that could simultaneously describe the company in plain language and build excitement for the work.
Neither of us was wrong. We just needed to talk it out. Loudly.
I like to argue. I think that most passionate creatives feel the same way, even if they don’t always act on the impulse. The key is knowing how to argue. An argument has to be an equal conversation, where both parties really listen and respond thoughtfully. So it’s best to have a sparring partner who is patient, even when he or she doesn’t have to be. And this is important.
Our organizational chart is fairly flat, but Mike is still our creative director. So I’m thankful when he, or anyone else, for that matter, is willing to not merely indulge an opinionated coworker, but to really listen. Because, yes, someone has to be in charge. Someone has to have final say. But when an office culture encourages everyone, regardless of seniority, to make a case for their ideas without fear of punishment, the final creative product will inevitably be better for it.
“I was totally right.” – Mike Spakowski
No one is perfect. Fights aren’t always healthy fights. We can’t always be bastions of patience. Sometimes the workload is overwhelming, or our personal lives take up precious mental space while we’re supposed to be on the clock. But when we do have patience and are willing to engage with one another, the work is always better.
This is true beyond the agency setting: any creative endeavor that involves more than one person is best served when it’s a meritocracy of ideas.
And – bonus! – arguments can help you build trust with the client. On the day we presented the web designs, Mike and I spilled the beans to the client, sharing our argument point-by-point: how it began, how it unfolded, and where we landed. There’s incredible value in this. It showed that we care enough about our clients’ site to argue about it. It showed that we understood their industry, audience and competitors deeply enough to have an intelligent debate about it.
More than anything, it showed that we’re transparent. We were willing to admit to our client something that shouldn’t be a secret: good ideas don’t come out of thin air. Most of the time, you have to fight for them.