Category Archives: Excerpts

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.

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. 

Focus on What Matters

“When you think about your argument, you may realize there is a universe of information Joy of Argument Albert Navarrathat is completely irrelevant to your argument. So an important part of good reasoning is ferreting out facts and points that may initially seem relevant or enticing, but in reality do not matter one bit. 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 that we will cover in this book. In essence, discussing things that are irrelevant to an argument is the same as changing the subject of the argument and arguing about something else. ”

The Joy of Argument, pg. 59

Stay focused.

It’s easy to become distracted by irrelevant information–whether you’re sidetracking yourself, or your opponent is barraging you with facts and figures that simply don’t matter. It takes practice, but a skilled arguer can learn to move past extraneous points, without getting pulled into time-wasting tangents.

Don’t waste your time.

Don’t allow yourself to become overwhelmed by the multitude of information that may be hiding the important parts of an argument. Find out early on what matters most about your argument, and don’t let anything distract you from those key points as you build and argue your case.

Don’t be distracted, discouraged or persuaded by the infinite number of things that simply don’t matter.

If you’re interested in learning more about using argument, check out The Joy of Argument here. 

The Importance of Argument

Ernest Hemingway said, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” What does “the world” mean? It could be macro issues, for example, human rights, social and economic policies, and international peace and prosperity. If you care about these issues, they are certainly worth promoting through sound argument. But “the world” can also mean your world, in an individual sense–for example, your health, your work, and your relationships. These issues affect you differently and are worth improving through sound argument. So when you think about it, there are as many reasons to argue as there are reasons to live. Your life itself is an argument, a statement of your beliefs and values, and what is important to you. 

–The Joy of Argument, (Boyle & Dalton, 2015)

Argument is a tool we can use to exercise our freedom of speech. We express ideas, opinions, problems and solutions through argument with the intention to make society better. Within this “marketplace of ideas,” the best ideas will eventually rise to the top, and good argument allows this to happen faster.

When you understand how to effectively argue, you can use argument as a tool to better your life, expand your world view (and the views of others), and on a basic level, communicate more effectively. You can cut through irrational, emotional and irrelevant arguments and emerge victorious, leaving you to celebrate the triumph of truth.

But argument is a skill that doesn’t come naturally to many people. Arguments that are too complicated will result in confusion. Arguments that are founded in emotion, often result in conflict. Without properly preparing yourself for an argument, your chance at accomplishing anything through discourse is slim.

The Joy of Argument by Albert Navarra was written to help the everyday arguer, as well as professionals, become experts at argument. This book breaks down argument strategies and best practices into easily usable bits of information for a fast, worthwhile read. From body language, to hot words, from leading questions to recognizing victory, The Joy of Argument covers all stages of argument from preparation to practice.

To start learning how to use argument to get what you want, pick up a copy of The Joy of Argument here. 

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