Tension Between Two Executives

When tension is running high in a business situation, some business people will revert to faulty logic in order to manipulate the situation. The following is an example of how faulty logic was attempted, and fortunately corrected.


I was called in to help fix a business problem with a large media company that I’ll call Nexus Media.

The Chief Executive Officer (CEO, the number one guy in the corporation) was not happy with the Chief Operating Officer’s (COO, the number two guy in the corporation) management results. Through surveys it was determined that the COO was not holding weekly meetings with his staff, that quarterly growth numbers weren’t being met, and that expenses were growing faster than revenues.

The meeting between the three of us was civil but tense. The CEO said that he wanted me to come in and work with the COO to solve the problems. I asked the CEO what objectives he wanted the COO to accomplish over the next 3 months. He said, “I want him (COO) to improve his working relationship with his staff, start growing the business again, cut expenses, and show a profit.”

I turned to the COO and asked if he could agree to those objectives. His answer was quick and to the point. “No, I can’t accomplish that in three months.” He continued, “I can either cut expenses or I can grow the business, but I can’t do both.”

I could feel the tension mounting between the two executives.

I took a deep breath, let it out, relaxed, and waited a few seconds and turned to the CEO. “Can you accept that?” I asked.

The CEO sat back in his chair, thought for a moment and responded in a low voice, “No, I can’t.” Then in one of the great moments I’ve witnessed in business, the CEO calmly said, “I want it all.”

At first, however, I was taken back. I had never heard that said before. It sounded juvenile, like something a child might say. On second thought, my reaction was even worse, “What a dumb thing for a CEO to say.” But then, my instincts started overriding my reactions. At a very basic level, I began to agree with the CEO’s succinct thinking. Why?

In my “Persuasion” course in college, I was taught the different fallacies of logic. One of those was the “Either/Or Fallacy”. I had forgotten the “Either/Or Fallacy” until that moment.

This fallacy states that when someone sets up a proposition where they state: “It is either this or it is that”, or “I can either do this or I can do that”; in other words, “either/or”, you are witnessing faulty logic.


There are more alternatives than two in almost every situation in life. It is an artificial argument to set up just two choices and say that these are the only two that exist. When someone does that, such as in the case of the COO, you need to break that kind of thinking up, which is just what the CEO did.

“No… I want it all” was not juvenile thinking, it was an appropriate response to the faulty logic of, “either I can do this… or I can do that, but not both.”

Clear Thinking Caused Clear Behavior

In response, the COO said, “well, what do you want from me?”

The CEO repeated, “I want you to one, improve your working relationship with your staff; two, hit your growth numbers; three, start cutting expenses; and four, start driving some profit.”

He ended by saying, “we’ll measure your progress in three months. Any more questions?”

In a radically different response the COO asked, “Who’ll measure my progress?”

“Roger will.”

Turning to me, the COO asked, “Do you think we can do it?”

What a different attitude.

Clearer thinking usually results in a better result. In fact, that’s what happened in this instance. It was a victory of logical thinking over faulty logic.


Check to see if you can detect any faults in your logic. Remember, if you can and if you improve, more than likely the results of whatever endeavor you are involved in will improve.

There are many fallacies of logic. Look them up on Wikipedia. Afterwards, create a game where you get points for pointing out faults in others’ logic, then give people points if they can pick out faults in your logic. If you can restrain yourselves from getting upset, your life will pick up and your insights will sharpen, in my humble opinion.

A clear thinking person is a gift to us all.