Argument 101

No matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on, it’s unlikely that you can escape argument. In a time where discussions dissolve into shouting matches IN ALL CAPS in comment sections, and “facts” are hotly contested on all sides, knowing how to effectively craft an argument can mean the difference between participating in intelligent debate, or walking away frustrated.

As you scroll through your newsfeed, here are a few tips from The Joy of Argument to help as you argue your way through the day. Feel free to share with anyone you encounter who could use a brush-up on his or her argument skills.

  1. Ignore Things That Don’t Matter. Trying to persuade by attacking the other person personally, by appealing to what “most” other people think, or by instilling fear are a few of many examples of irrelevancy. Discussing things that are irrelevant to an argument is the same as changing the subject of the argument. Don’t be distracted, discouraged, or persuaded by the infinite number of things that simply don’t matter. 
  2. Are the Numbers Accurate? Statistics can be very persuasive because they’re measurable. They create a sense of objectivity because they’re based on math. Two plus two equals four. Who can argue with that? So people cite numbers for everything you can imagine. But sometimes people cite numbers that are not accurate. Or it’s unclear exactly what the numbers measure. Dig to find out what the number really measures, and if it’s reasonably accurate. 
  3. Answer the Question! If you ask a relevant question you deserve a relevant answer. But you won’t always get one. You might get an answer, perhaps a very long answer, and it may sound impressive, spoken with great passion and sincerity. It just won’t answer your question. So listen carefully, and make sure you get a relevant answer to your question–not a runaround, another question as an answer, or a claim of misunderstanding.
  4. Don’t Put on Blinders. “I don’t care what you say. I’m not going to change my mind.” Sometimes people get so caught up in their argument that they ignore any new facts, evidence, or reasons that go against their arguments. At this point, your goal is not so much to seek agreement; you just want to know if the other person is rational and open-minded. If the person says there is no fact, evidence or reason that would change his or her mind, give up. When a person’s mind is made up you might as well move on to something else. But in your own arguments, remember–don’t ignore new information; at least consider it.
  5. Two-Second Logic Test. Here’s a quick, simple and often effective test. Someone makes an argument that something is good or bad. For example, “Homosexuality should be illegal because it is unnatural.” Replace the key term, “homosexuality,” with something the other person accepts should be legal, like anesthesia. “So would you argue that anesthesia should be illegal, because it is unnatural?” You immediately undercut the heart of the argument that something should be illegal solely because it is unnatural.

These five tips were taken from excerpts of The Joy of Argument by Albert Navarra. If you’d like to explore the book in its entirety, find it in paperback and e-book form on Amazon by clicking here. 

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