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Tips on Listening from The Joy of Argument by Albert Navarra, Esq.

Note: The following is a guest post by Graham Bodie, Ph.D., Chief Listening Officer at Listen First Project.

I recently finished The Joy of Argument: 91 Ways to Get More of What You Want, and Less of What You Don’t by Albert Navarra, Esq. The book is organized into 91 chapters, each presenting a pithy tip for enjoying argument and helping warn the reader against fallacies of logic. In general, the book does a nice job illustrating that good argument, like good listening, does not have to be particularly complex or reserved for trained professionals.

The Joy of Argument has one chapter explicitly devoted to listening. In that chapter, appropriately titled “Listen!” Navarra explains that:

“Arguing without listening is like flying without seeing. You won’t know where you need to go with your argument … Listening shows the other person you are open-minded, objective, sincere, compassionate, helpful, and trustworthy.”
—The Joy of Argument, p. 38

But what exactly is listening in the context of arguing? Although there is not an explicit definition found in the book, Navarra sprinkles tips on how to listen well during argument throughout his book. I would like to highlight four below.

1. Listening is not agreeing.

Although Navarra does not explicitly state a (dis)connection between listening and agreeing, it’s there. The fact is that argument is between people. Yes, we can argue with ourselves (or perhaps, more accurate, we have internal struggles about our own beliefs that we don’t always express). The temptation is to think that if you listen to someone—that is, allow the other person to lay out their arguments in a non-judgmental and open manner—that you are somehow condoning their behavior, as if allowing someone the courtesy to express their opinion (grounded in facts hopefully) is the same as “giving them a platform.” Some would argue that there are issues so incontrovertible that to allow for the expression of alternative points of view would be a disservice to society and perhaps persuade “unthinking” individuals toward the “wrong” stance on those issues. But the notion that listening is not agreeing means that just because you entertain particular arguments does not mean that you agree with those arguments or even that you think they have any merit at all.

One reason to listen to “strange” or “ill-founded” arguments is to get them out in the open and make a strong case for why taking that stance is not only wrong but problematic or caustic. Zachary R. Wood made a similar point in his 2018 Ted Talk:

“In 2016, I invited John Derbyshire as well as Charles Murray to speak at my school, knowing full well that I would be giving a platform and attention for ideas that I despised and rejected. But this is just a further evolution of a journey of uncomfortable learning throughout my life.”

Mr. Wood continued in his talk to tell stories involving conversations with his mother about affirmative action, an issue she supported but also one that she understood as “controversial” and that “had a long history.” In conversations such as these, Mr. Wood learned to “never just write off opinions that I disagreed with or disliked, because there was always something to learn from the perspectives of others, even when doing so might be difficult.”

Perhaps the only alternative to listening is assuming, and you know what they say about assuming. Several things happen when we shut off alternative points of view, sticking to our own filter bubbles and ignoring other ways of thinking. One consequence is that we begin to stereotype the other side, believing things about “those people” who believe “those things” and ultimately shutting down the possibility for conversation.

Another aspect of assuming covered in The Joy of Argument happens when we base our beliefs more on the person than on the arguments. For instance, in the chapter “Challenge Authorities,” Navarra reminds readers to stay focused on the merits of an expert’s testimony rather than mesmerized by her fancy language or his list of degrees. The power of authority is backed by research that has shown something as simple as a white lab coat can influence people into making decisions that seem misguided at best and morally questionable at worst (see the Milgram Experiment and this article on its implications today). When we stay attuned to the argument, we begin to understand how others think, something that Zachary R. Wood claims as quite powerful for finding “common ground, if not with the speakers themselves, then with the audiences they may attract or indoctrinate” as well as coming to “a deeper understanding of our own beliefs” while “[preserving] the ability to solve problems.” And isn’t that the point of arguing in the first place, to solve problems?

2. If you listen, you might just learn something (open-minded).

Choosing to listen, and avoiding the alternative posture of assuming, means that you should come to arguments with an open mind. In his chapter “Win at Any Cost?” Navarra reminds readers that, contrary to popular belief, the purpose of argument is not always to win. Sure, there are times, as Navarra points out, that you might be paid to argue a particular claim or point of view; but even in these cases, if you are wrong, well … you are wrong.

A reoccurring theme found in The Joy of Argument is that facts, reason, logic, and evidence should lead the way in argument. Various chapters remind the reader to avoid getting too emotional, and Navarra covers classic fallacies of argument such as argument from tradition (what has been should always be) and hasty generalization (what is generally true is true in this case), thus pointing readers to the need to be grounded in what is rather than how you want things to be.

In one chapter, for instance, Navarra appeals several times to think about the issue from, as the chapter is titled, the “other side of the coin.” By considering the argument from “the other side” you open yourself to learning more—not only might you learn something about your own position but you might also have what he calls a “second thought”—that is, you might become convinced through the activity of argument that your position is not the best one to hold.

And so what The Joy of Argument suggests about listening to, for, and within argument is that at its best, the practice of arguing is about learning: learning to be a better persuader, learning to be a better advocate, learning to be a better human.

3. To listen is to respect

Closely related to having an open mind is being respectful of the person behind the position. Several organizations within the #ListenFirst Coalition stress the importance of establishing relationships with people who don’t see the world the same as you. Doing so not only opens us to new experiences, but it teaches us to respect others even when we differ on important issues.

The fact is that many of the things we argue about do not have simple or even uniform solutions. The world is complex, and answers to difficult questions will be aided when diverse people come together regardless of difference in a manner that respects the dignity of our shared humanity.

In a chapter that comes late in the book, “Stubbornness,” Navarra discusses the human tendency to be resistant to change. But even if you are not ready for change, you can be resistant in a respectful manner. A clear point that Navarra wants to make is that arguers should avoid, at all costs, attacking the person. He devotes several chapters to this virtue, highlighting the pitfalls of the logical fallacy known as ad hominem. When we attack the person and not the position, not only do we disrespect them, we also lose sight of our own point of view.

As Navarra points out in an early chapter, we should continually ask ourselves “What are we arguing about?” Chances are, we did not enter the argument to demean, defile, or otherwise disrespect the other person. To listen well sometimes means to respectfully disagree.

4. The words silent and listen have the same letters

In the chapter “Power of Pause,” Navarra writes:

Argument can … make powerful use of silence. If the other person does not agree with you after a good amount of argument, consider giving it a rest for a while … sometimes it’s not possible to overcome all obstacles in one discussion, or even several discussions. Some things take time. And if you keep hammering away you might just make the other person ‘dig in’ and take an even more defensive posture. You may also damage a relationship or potential relationship.
—The Joy of Argument, pp. 191-192

I love this piece of advice for several reasons. First, it highlights the importance of remembering what you are arguing for (and about). Is what you are arguing for worth the cost of the relationship you might damage? Is it worth making the other person feel like less of a person, unworthy because they disagree with you? Usually, the answer to both these questions is “no.” Second, it resonates with research on persuasion that confirms the processual nature of argument. According to a classic theory of persuasion, Social Judgment Theory, it is difficult, if not impossible, to shift another person to your exact opinion immediately. It takes more than one argument to bring people completely to your side, but what you can do is create incremental shifts in attitudes (or what this theory calls latitudes in recognition that any single belief is situated in a complex mix of other beliefs). Ultimately, argument is a process that takes time, patience, and a willingness to listen across divides.

When you listen, try being silent, giving the other person time to argue her case or yourself time to process that case. Give the other person time to understand what you are saying, to ask questions, and to dive deeper into the issue. Sometimes this “time” may be a few seconds or minutes, or maybe it takes a few days to fully process and come to an understanding. Don’t be afraid of asking for time and taking time to fully digest and attempt to understand another’s point of view.


Although there are several other lessons on listening you might get from reading Navarra’s Joy of Argument, these are the most resonant and in line with what we advocate at Listen First Project. By listening first to understand, we can mend our frayed social fabric, engaging others in conversations and potentially building the relationships across divides that our world so desperately needs. As Navarra points out, arguing is an inevitable part of life—we live it every day in our personal and professional lives, from what we should eat for breakfast to what type of mattress we should utilize as we rest our heads. In the words of Navarra, “Argument is part of life and worth doing well.” Listening is a big part of argument and worth the effort of doing well, as well.

Graham Bodie is an internationally recognized expert on listening and has published over 80 monographs, book chapters, and encyclopedia entries. Dr. Bodie’s work has been funded by the National Science Foundation and featured in the Wall Street Journal, Psychology Today, and on National Public Radio. Dr. Bodie received his B.A. and M.A. in Communication from Auburn University and his Ph.D. from Purdue University. He is currently Professor of Integrated Marketing Communication at the University of Mississippi and the Chief Listening Officer of Listen First Project.

Listen First Project encourages conversations that prioritize understanding to bridge divides and mend our frayed social fabric. We catalyze the #ListenFirst movement powered by more than 150 partner organizations, thousands of individuals, National Conversation Project, and local chapters around the world. LFP focuses on society at large, schools, and workplaces while recognizing those who champion the Listen First mission.  For more advice and tips on listening, including the discovery of what type of listener you are, visit Listen First Project, follow them on Facebook or Twitter, or email

An Excerpt: Original Sin

Joy of Argument Albert NavarraDON’T FALL FOR an argument that relies solely on the origin of something and ignores the current reality. How something started is not always relevant to what it is today. Easter may have started as a pagan spring festival, but does that undermine its legitimacy today? Easter is now celebrated by Christians as the resurrection of Jesus Christ and is typically the most well-attended service of the year. Australia was originally populated by aboriginal people—hunters and gatherers—and then settled by the British through the transportation of large numbers of male and female prisoners. So is Australia uncivilized? Hardly. Today Australia has one of the world’s largest economies, and life expectancy in Australia is also among the highest in the world.

The previous excerpt is quoted from The Joy of Argument, by Albert Navarra.

As we approach the holiday season, it’s always a popular time to debate the origins of what we’re celebrating.  Is Thanksgiving a celebration of the oppression of millions of Native Americans, or a celebration of thankfulness and the American story? Is Christmas a celebration of the birth of Jesus, a secular celebration of modern goodwill among men (ho ho ho!), or a bastardization of the pagan festival of Saturnalia?

These are all good questions, worthy of civil discourse.

The origins of a holiday aren’t necessarily what we celebrate today. However, the origins can provide a jumping-off point for needed discussion and sometimes protest.  When protest of an origin is worthwhile, remain civil.  The person joyfully celebrating the holiday at your dinner table likely isn’t celebrating the atrocities you’ve associated with the occasion.

Is there room to joyfully celebrate with the people we love, while still opening the door for thoughtful discussion?

Argument is beautiful and necessary to move our society forward.  Learn how to do it well, to change hearts and minds, by purchasing The Joy of Argument on Amazon here.

Say Things That Matter

The following is an excerpt from The Joy of Argument. If this passage gets you thinking Joy of Argument Albert Navarraabout how you can more effectively use argument in day-to-day life, check out the complete book in paperback or e-book format here. 

To realize the joy of argument and all the wonderful things it can bring, you need to think about and say things that matter. Don’t just say things because it feels good to say them. Say things because they are relevant and help prove your point.

Start by arguing relevant facts. And spend most of your time on the most relevant facts. A fact is relevant if it tends to prove your point; these are the facts you emphasize when you are proving a point. For example, let’s say you argue that there is an economic recession. Relevant facts would be decreased income levels, decreased gross domestic product (GDP), decreased consumer spending, and increased unemployment. These facts, if true, would tend to prove your point.

But before you declare victory, keep in mind that a fact is also relevant if it tends to disprove your point; these are the facts your opponent emphasizes when he tries to prove you wrong. Increased income levels, increased gross domestic product, increased consumer spending, and decreased unemployment, if true, would tend to disprove your point. These facts make up the “other side of the coin,” and you should be aware of them if they are true.

So it’s important to identify the relevant facts in an argument. But it’s not enough to simply argue relevant facts in an argument. To persuade, you need to argue the most relevant facts. Let’s say you and a friend are arguing about whether there is an economic recession. Your friend says, “I just came back from Dubai. The business-class lounge was packed. The plane was completely full. Where’s the recession? I don’t see any recession!” Is it relevant that the business lounge in Dubai International Airport is full? Sure, a busy airport is a sign of economic activity. But is this the most important fact as to whether there is a recession? Probably not. First, airports tend to attract people with money, so an airport is not always the best barometer of general economic conditions. Second, airlines have been running their planes fuller in recent years because of consolidations, partnerships, elimination of unprofitable routes, technology, and fuel costs. And many seats are taken by off-duty airline staff and passengers using frequent-flier miles. These factors don’t tend to indicate the end of a recession. So the most relevant facts in this argument are probably broader economic statistics–for example, income levels, unemployment, GDP, and consumer spending (a tiny fraction of which would be found in the business lounge).

The most common flaw in bad arguments is saying stuff that is not relevant. Most bad reasoning comes down to saying things that don’t prove, or even tend to prove, the point. Say things that matter, and especially the things that matter most, and you stand a much better chance of persuading.

Ask Why

We argue because we disagree. And that’s OK. A world where everyone agreed ondde069018eb404ad120e7d1a47a98d07 everything would be unproductive, unoriginal and boring.

When you enter into an argument with someone it may be apparent at first where your opinions differ. But after an argument has gone on for some time, it’s easy to lose track of what points have been conceded, and where dissension still remains.

If you’ve argued with a person for a while, and he or she still doesn’t agree with you, you need to know why. So if you don’t already know, ask. That way you can focus on points that will persuade, rather than waste time and effort on points the other person already agrees on or doesn’t care about.

There might be only one reason the other person doesn’t yet agree, or there may be several. These reasons may be purely emotional, completely logical, or both. So ask, “Why do you disagree?” If you want to be subtler, you can rephrase. “Are there any objections to…” “Are there any obstacles to…”

Simple questions like these force the person with whom you are arguing to stop and reconsider his or her feelings about the topic at hand, and reevaluate what exactly it is you’re arguing about. This is a useful tool when the argument seems to be getting off track, or you begin to feel you’re talking each other in circles, unable to move on from a particular point.

Sometimes the other person is not completely honest about why they disagree with you. If you think some prodding will bring it out, ask. “Are there any other issues that you’re thinking about?” “Do you have any other concerns that we should consider?” “Am I covering everything that matters to you?”

The Key

Find out exactly what the hang-up is so you can address it.

Portions of this blog post were excerpted from The Joy of Argument by Albert Navarra. If you’d like more information on how to hone your communication skills through argument, check out The Joy of Argument in paperback and e-book formats here.

Excerpt: Don’t Jump on the Bandwagon

The following is an excerpt from The Joy of Argument. If this passage gets you thinking Joy of Argument Albert Navarraabout how you can more effectively use argument in day-to-day life, check out the complete book in paperback or e-book format here. 

Relying on public opinion is not always the most reliable way to judge something. Sometimes you really can’t tell unless you try it, and judge for yourself.

A recent poll showed that 62% of Americans think the government should cut spending to help the economy. So is that all we need to know? Just start cutting? Whether spending cuts (“austerity measures”) will help or hurt the economy depends on many factors, for example, the effects on the poor and middle class, government’s ability to pay its debt liabilities, investors’ trust in a government’s ability to pay its debts, effects on interest rates, and even psychological factors. It’s more complicated than a public opinion poll.

And public opinion changes. Another recent poll showed that 87% of Americans favor marriage between blacks and whites. In 1958 it was 4%.

Public opinion does have a certain allure. It can feel a little uncomfortable to hold a minority viewpoint. Politicians play on this emotion by arguing, “most people agree that…” or “most people don’t support…” But sometimes the minority is right!

Also, public opinion polls can seem authoritative because they involve statistics and numbers. But remember what your parents used to say: “If all your friends jump off a cliff, are you going to jump too?”

Just because a lot of people believe something, or are doing something, doesn’t prove it’s a good idea.

The Key

Don’t jump on the bandwagon just because a lot of other people are.

Lack of Proof

If you can’t find your keys, and you search your entire car, and you don’t find your keys in your car, it’s okay to say your keys are not in your car. You are making an argument based on lack of evidence. This argument is valid because you searched the entire car.

If you argue that aliens do not exist because you have never seen evidence of extraterrestrials, you are also making an argument based on lack of evidence. But this argument is not as strong, because you have not searched the entire universe for evidence of aliens. In fact, you probably have not even searched a significant portion of the universe. So the lack of proof of extraterrestrials does not necessarily prove that extraterrestrials don’t exist. Maybe they do exist; you just haven’t looked in the right places!

The Joy of Argument, “Lack of Proof” pg. 98

These examples illustrate how carefully you must examine lack of proof in an argument. On first glance a lack of proof may indicate that something does not exist. But this is only a valid conclusion if all possible sources of proof have been explored.

Some arguments have a conclusion that provides certainty, while others have a conclusion that only provides a probability. Be careful when arguing about lack of proof. What may at first appear to be a strong defense, could easily end up to be an assumption based on lack of evidence.

A Threat is Not an Argument

In the founding days of this country using a threat to win an argument might’ve ended in a the-petticoat-duellistsduel. “I’m going to kill you,” wasn’t a flippant way of saying, “I’m really mad and I vehemently disagree with your point of view.” It was a statement of actual intent.

“Sword or pistol?”


If this were the case today, a third of the people in comment sections would be counting off paces. Because of the ease of anonymity in the age of social media, discussions devolve quickly into petty digital duels, each participant looking to come up with the final, most damaging, insult.

A sound argument is based on facts and logic, not fear. A person with a strong argument has no need to insult the other person, because they have plenty of ammunition to attack the argument itself.

So how to combat this culture of irrational behavior?

You can’t argue, productively, with a person who is irrational. You can only fight with them, and there’s no joy in that. If the person isn’t receptive to things like facts and reason, leave it alone. The person might be going through a difficult time and is just too emotional at the moment to have a rational discussion.

If you find yourself tempted to attack your opponent in the heat of an argument, resist. Turn your thoughts back to your argument. If the person is nor aware of important facts, don’t insult their intelligence–explain the facts to them without being condescending. Focus on the point you want to make, and the reasons or facts that support your point.

Keep your cool, know when to walk away, and when to refocus your argument to avoid emotional pitfalls.

Interested in more argument tips like this one? Check out The Joy of Argument here. It’s chock full of information you’ll need before and after every discussion. 

Debate What Matters, Skip the Rest

Before the era of the internet people argued at dinner parties. They argued at work and they argued while they were getting ready for bed. And while someone could shout after you as you walked away, you could pretty easily avoid debate just by being alone.

Today, we’re connected to argument at all times. Smartphones, television, and better modes of transportation put us in touch with people outside our immediate circles more than ever before. These advancements expose us to worldviews, cultures and opinions that are vastly different from our own. And that’s a good thing. The more we learn about other people–even if it’s only to discover we don’t understand them–the more we grow as individuals.

But this constant connectivity can be exhausting. No matter what your opinion, no matter how trivial the topic at hand may seem, there’s almost always going to be a dissenter in the crowd, grumping from his or her armchair.







Argument is a valuable tool, but it’s OK to take a break from debate. Turn off your notifications. Don’t respond to every reply. Disallow comments. Save your energy for the arguments that really matter.

Goodreads Giveaway

Free book alert!

Enter our Goodreads giveaway for a chance to win one of five paperback copies of The Joy of Argument. In a world where opinions are more often shouted than discussed, The Joy of Argument teaches you how to become a skilled participant in the art of intelligent discourse. Learn how to craft a better argument to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t–learn the joy of argument.

Enter to win your copy here.

This compact guide to argument was written by an expert but designed for the layman. Featuring easily digestible, concise sections, The Joy of Argument covers such topics as: Lack of Proof, What do the Numbers Prove?, Nerves, and Hot Words.

This giveaway will close on April 8, 2017 and is free to enter. The regular price of the book is $14.95.

Good luck in the giveaway and happy reading!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Joy of Argument by Albert Navarra

The Joy of Argument

by Albert Navarra

Giveaway ends April 08, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Conquer Your Fear, State Your Opinions

You’ve probably heard that public speaking is feared more than death. But this doesn’t mean that all of those people have nothing they want to say.

If you’ve found yourself silently disagreeing with the conversation around the water cooler at work, or seething over the comment section of news articles without saying anything, you’re not alone. Stop unloading your opinions to your significant other at the end of the day.

Intelligent discussion, argument, discourse—it is possible to exchange differing ideas without a stressful, hostile outcome. To get your opinions across in a world of CAPS LOCK shouting matches and hurt feelings you need the power of the skill of argument.

With the proper education you can refute misleading data, shut down personal attacks, ask the right questions and conquer your nerves.

Some people are born with preternatural confidence, even if they’re not preternaturally competent. They’re not nervous making an argument anywhere, anytime. Good for them. But most people will fall somewhere on the spectrum of nervousness between butterflies and crippling self-doubt. Don’t let this stop you from expressing what you have to say through argument.

Better solutions are implemented when everyone feels free to offer their opinions for vigorous and open discussion and debate. What you know, your specific experiences and ideas, are unique and important. Don’t let fear keep you from joining an argument.

If you’re interested in learning how to make your voice heard, check out The Joy of Argument here. Written for the layperson by an experienced attorney, this easy-to-read guide to argument will educate you in the art of intelligent debate.