Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How To Argue

Given that we're all human, there will come a time or two (or three or four or more) when we'll find ourselves in an argument with someone else. It happens.

The question is how best to handle an argument. Which probably sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, since we're often taught the best method with which to approach disagreements is avoiding them. Certainly we should try to skip needless arguments. However, people being people disagreements will arise. How to handle them?

Author Barry Eisler recently offered some suggestions:

  • Insults and the Golden Rule. Speak to the other person in the manner to which you wish to be spoken. Lay off the sarcasm.
  • No one cares about your opinion. This sounds harsh, but it is often the case. Argue with logic, reason and facts as your basis, not "want to know what I think?"
  • Your ego is your enemy. The moment you make an argument about yourself, or take things too personally, you're tap-dancing in a minefield. Remain detached.
  • Good argument is good conversation. Keep the tone and demeanor warm. As my Mom often said, you catch a lot more flies with honey than vinegar.
  • Avoid false binaries. If you employ an either/or scenario in your argument, make sure it's logically and factually sound. "Either we lower taxes or the blue meanies will invade Pepperland" notions should be avoided.
  • Avoid sham arguments. A prime example of this is using a truism as the basis of your argument. This is a none-too transparent way of saying the person you're arguing with is so dense they can't grasp basic facts. Refer back to the first rule. You don't score points by insinuating the other person is a moron. Also, avoid the straw man technique, which consists of creating someone or something to first attach to the argument, then attack, that has no genuine bearing on the subject at hand.
  • Avoid cliches. They speak of only unoriginality. If you can't come up with anything fresh to express your point of view, why should you expect the other person to accept your point of view as something other than a rehash?
  • Don't digress. Stay on target.
  • Separate the subjective from the objective. Don't dispute the other person's opinion. They have as much right to one as you. Instead, focus on facts.

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