How to lose an argument

An argument is not to be confused with a discussion or debate. Discussions are honest conversations with the goal of exchanging information and learning.  In discussions, communication occurs.  Communication has four necessary elements:

1. Message

2. Sender

3. Receiver

4. Feedback

An arguments is a fight with words, where the participants have no intention of hearing, acknowledging or even considering their opponent’s point of view, and communication will not occur.  Where there is an argument, there will be at least one person who is overly invested in his position.  If you are going to argue with someone, make sure you avoid using the following losing strategies:

Not a "discussion"

Not a “discussion”

1. Yelling.  This one is obvious, but it happens.  If you yell, you can forget being taken seriously.  In your mind, you might be trying to let your opponent know how convinced you are, or serious you are about your position.  It won’t matter.  You look like a raving lunatic and lose all credibility.

2. Insults.  Not only will your opponent refuse your point of view, so will any audience you may have.  Insults are a way of ensuring to everyone within earshot that you do not have enough gray matter or maturity to intellectually handle another person’s differing point of view.  This includes passive aggressive insults.  Passive aggressive behavior reeks of arrogance and should be avoided.

3. Aggression.  The previously mention yelling and insults can fall under aggression, but so can “controlling the clock”.  Talking over your opponent and not letting them make their point is a form of fear.  You are afraid of what they may have to say, so you don’t let them say it.  If your position is a strong one, you shouldn’t fear any opposing point of view.

4. Hyperbole.  Taking a single incident, sample or example and inflating it’s significance with over the top rhetoric takes facts out of proportion and makes you a liar.  Any attempt to manipulate the perception of truth and facts is a form of deception. You may think you are clever, but everyone will see through this ruse and roll their eyes.  It is weak.

5. Straw Man’s fallacy.

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This one is especially irritating and low.  Be a better person and don’t do this.

The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of “reasoning” has the following pattern:

Person A has position X.
Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).
Person B attacks position Y.
Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.
This sort of “reasoning” is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.(Nizkor Project).

6. Circular logic.  This is when you state your conclusion at the beginning of your argument in order to validate the statement by coming back to it at the end, hence the term circular. Where you go wrong is using the conclusion as a premise to support your argument.  This skips using actual facts to support the original premise.  For example: “Your candidate is a fraud because his work is fraudulent.”

7 & 7a. Confirmation Bias/Jumping to Conclusions.  This is a dangerous bias in which you only seek out facts that support your position and minimize, undermine or outright ignore facts that may prove counter to your position. It is human nature to do so, but you should be aware of it.  An example could be citing a study or newspaper article that supports your argument and trumpeting it as fact, while ignoring another study or article that offers another point of view and ignoring its significance. An indicator that your opponent is guilty of this bias is if they jump to conclusions.

Example:

Opponent: “You should consider visiting other cultures”

You: “I have been to 8 different countries and lived in 3 different countries for several years.”

Opponent: “Oops.”

Yea, oops is right.  Now your opponent is exposed as closed minded and has lost tremendous credibility.  The only thing worse would be if he tries to continue his losing strategy to undermine you with something like “Well, you can’t know anything about other cultures until you visit 9 of them”.  If your opponent is jumping to conclusions about you without any evidence, they have shown they are not thorough in their thought process and research.  Game. Set. Match.

8. Excessive wordiness.  Long winded responses that don’t address the specifics are designed to get your opponent and audience off track and away from facts that may be harmful to your argument. Watch any political debate and you will get plenty of examples of this.

9. Convincing language.  This form of deception is one you must be on the look out for. Whenever someone starts chest thumping and supporting his position with bragging or “I love me” statements, put your boots on it’s about to get thick.

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Keep in mind, however, that if you call into question someone’s qualifications, you have set the stage for a response containing self qualifications.  See example above in item 7a.

10. Repetition. “Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth.” – Franklin Roosevelt.

It does, however, come across as convincing.  Watch out for the deceptive practice of constantly saying the same thing over and over, citing the same study or article many times and any response that includes: “as I have said before”, “I already told you” and anything similar.

In conclusion, the best way to win an argument is to avoid it altogether.  Engage in a discussion and listen to the other person’s point of view and don’t become emotionally attached to yours.  Once the other person uses one of the faux tactics discussed, you might want to consider talking to someone else because he has no intention of receiving your message.  His goal is to “win”, and nobody wins an argument except those who don’t take part it in.  After all, the high road has the better view.

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