Friday, September 29, 2006

Want to win an argument?

I have always wondered why people argue. Conventional wisdom (mine that is :-)) says that an argument is for the purpose of informing the other person of your point of view and understanding why the other person disagrees with you. It stops becoming an argument when the idea of the argument is to convince the person that you are right. Convincing a person, I believe, should only be the product of making your point rather than the goal. There are several strategies we use to win over an argument. Some I use and other I have run into over time. Here are some of them listed in no particular order.

1. Start the argument with a blanket judgment on the other person’s opinion

This usually starts with something like "That is just stupid" or "I can’t believe you said that". The argument begins with the assumption that my opinion is not worth any merit and the only reason the argument is even happening is because I need to be convinced of what is right. There is no pretense of even understanding what I am trying to say. Usually in this case the person on the offense is not even listening to what the poor ignorant me has to say in my defense. At the end... the claim of victory is made announcing that they didn’t hear anything remotely sensible in the argument.

2. Repeat the same point over and over

Some people start with a point in an argument and simply repeat the same point over and over again. It doesn’t matter that the point has been countered. The person doesn’t even acknowledge the counter point and simply says "But like I said......” I am left wondering if my counter point is even relevant at all. After a while I think my point is not getting across and give up. The person claims moral victory as says that his point was never countered at any point.

3. You are good but what you say here is stupid.

This is the most devious one yet. In the middle of the argument the person says "You are a good person but misguided in this case". This gives me the false sense that he thinks that I am smart but this is a point that I am wrong. I then begin to think that since I am smart I should be sensible and agree with the opposing point of view hence demonstrating that I am accepting of new ideas. The person slowly eases into victory and announces that I am converted.

4. Display emotional stress

This is a tough one. Once the argument gets heated the other person begins to show emotional stress. I am left wondering if I should be creating such emotional turmoil so something so trivial and back out of it. And victory has been wrestled away.

5. Going on a tangent

This is usually noise. When a person begins losing the point that they are trying to make, there is tangent points that are brought into the argument. This usually broadens the discussion and dilutes the point trying to be made. This is the old battle strategy of smoke screen and confusion and before I know it I am lost in the smoke and the person has walked away claiming success.

6. The trump card (Experience)

This one always gets me. Since I end up arguing with people older than me in most cases I get this all the time. When the argument hits stalemate one of the most popular one is "You will not understand it now. But as you grow older you will appreciate what I have to say". This one kills the argument and I am left feeling as if I have been a bad boy questioning the authority of a more experienced person.

Though I have tried to pretend to be the victim in all the above cases I am very much guilty as charged for being the aggressor in most cases too, though I think I am yet to pull the trump card. I think I will wait a few more years before I start pulling that out on poor impressionable young kids who dare to have a point against me in an argument.

Bring it on!!!


Anonymous said...

Its takes an open minded person who is intellident and secure in his own knowledge and position to be able to accept an opposing viewpoint. Sometimes to give in to an argument would mean having to admit that you were wrong or that the other person was also correct. Not everyone has the grace to admit that.
As for those who quote experience - well, maybe it is experience that has given them their view point and we might just have to give them the benefit of the doubt.

SM said...

lot of good observations packed in there!
If people argue, or rather discuss, constructively, a lot of good can be born from that. The fact is that in most cases, no one person is 100% correct. In this world there are few black and white answers. When there is a healthy discussion and people actually listen to each other, it can lead to the birth of new ideas and new inventions and excellent solutions. Only if our human pride does not get in the way
But what I am really curious about is - who did you argue with before you wrote this article? :)