How To Win An Argument
September 5, 2005 5:31 PM   Subscribe

How To Win An Argument. Plus, if you scroll down, you'll find an argument about "How To Win An Argument." (Which may remind you of a Monty Python skit.) What do you think of this guy's strategy? Compassionate or passive-aggressive?
posted by grumblebee (56 comments total)
So, you posted this and you want us to read it? How do you feel about what you posted?
posted by signal at 5:41 PM on September 5, 2005

Well, it's an interesting strategy for layperson therapy on another human being, but it's not how to win an argument.
posted by Miko at 5:41 PM on September 5, 2005

If your looking for more then a blog post on winning arguments, I shill for this book. It's got a lot of sample arguments so you can learn to easily spot all those fun little fallacies (much to the dismay of my girlfriend :) ).
posted by Mach5 at 5:45 PM on September 5, 2005

[this is good]
I usually wait till they are as worked up as they can be and then just laugh. Works like a charm, but you're gotta make sure the laugh is genuine.
posted by c13 at 5:56 PM on September 5, 2005

signal wins
posted by Falconetti at 5:57 PM on September 5, 2005

So its true what they say about the digg-metafilter overlap.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:01 PM on September 5, 2005

in fact, it works so well that I wonder if I am indeed channeling some kind of higher self

Eh, this just seems like a way to irritate someone you are arguing with. It reminds me of a training some colleagues all went to a while back. They all re-emerged with no more empathy skills or EQ, but some active listening tricks, with which they proceeded to drive everyone, including themselves, crazy.
posted by Cassford at 6:10 PM on September 5, 2005

c13: or you can go the other route and go for the Nelson "HA HA!" (from the Simpsons). Suitably demeaning!
posted by Mach5 at 6:12 PM on September 5, 2005

If I was upset about something and talking to someone I already was predisposed to disagree with, i.e. not a counselor or very good friend, and they asked "You seem to be fairly upset about this. Why do you think that is?" I would have a strong urge inflict physical harm.

People in my family have a way of using this type of strategy in order to win an argument. Believe you me, it's easy to tell between someone who is trying to win by not trying to win and someone who _actually cares_ about how the other feels. There's always a continuum, so if you can mantain balance there's a snowball's chance this will work. Otherwise, you will either lose focus on winning entirely (potentially a great thing) or royally piss the other person off with your psycho-babble.

Plus, the strategy is an extension of "everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you!" - didn't work on the playground, not likely to work in the real world.
posted by lorrer at 6:15 PM on September 5, 2005

This article isn't about how to win an argument. It's about how to avoid one entirely while still having a contentious discussion that might, at first glance, pass for an argument.
posted by Clay201 at 6:16 PM on September 5, 2005

Perhaps someone from around here should get in contact with the author. I see potential for fruitful teamwork.

Mefites can claim with some seriousness to know how to not win an argument.
posted by uncle harold at 6:22 PM on September 5, 2005

How to win an argument in 3 easy steps:

1) Repeat back whatever your opponent says in the form of a question.
2) ???
3) Profit!
posted by fatbobsmith at 6:49 PM on September 5, 2005

This is better: "How to Win Arguments, As It Were" by Dave Barry.
posted by bitpart at 6:59 PM on September 5, 2005

Grumblebee, that's a terrible article. I really hope nobody tries that at home.

It's a fine technique for driving people insane. It's the exact opposite of intimacy and honesty, and about what I'd expect from someone who wants to 'channel spirits' to help him to change other people against their will.

Not a nice guy, that one.

If you want to "win" an argument, as he rightly says, you've already lost.

But to try to change the other person against their will, or to cause them to have an emotional breakdown, as he bizarrely recommends?

Then not only have you lost, you're a sick manipulative fuckwit too. And the schizo you just created will be coming looking for you when he goes postal...

A better question might be: What's the purpose of human vocal interactions?

To me, it's to provide emotional support to each other, and to learn what truths the other person has to teach you - and, if the opportunity arises, to teach what truths you can to them. Respectfully and gently as possible.

Both people should be eager to learn.

And the result of a good discussion should be consensus.

Even if you disagree, that's fine, providing you agree to disagree - "OK, you like Dylan, I prefer the Beatles. We can both live with that? Right." - that's consensus. It's very satisfying and you know it when you've got it.

Usually when honesty is taking place on both sides, consensus follows fairly swiftly.

If the discussion gets into anger and violence, well, it'll take a while - maybe years - to get over whatever is causing the problem - usually denial of one form or another - but still, the only good end to that argument will be in eventual consensus.

So, how to win an argument? Tell the truth, politely, until you arrive at consensus.

That's my position, and if anybody argues with it, I'll thcweem and thcweem and thcweeeem.
posted by cleardawn at 7:28 PM on September 5, 2005

Ahem.. this article was a joke, no?
posted by c13 at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2005

The real problem is all these assholes that keep arguing with me with their half assed opinions on crap they're completely wrong about. I wouldn't get into arguments if people who were so wrong about everything would keep quiet and stop questioning my opinion.

That's why there are arguments. Duh.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:46 PM on September 5, 2005

Me: [Statement indicating my position in the discussion.]

Other person: How do you feel about holding that position?

Me: This isn't about me. [Restatement of my position.]

Other person: Interesting. So you think that it's appropriate and honourable to...?

Me: Again, this isn't about me. Are you planning on providing an opinion on the subject of discussion?

Other person: Why is this important to you? Would you feel validated by this?

Me: [Stabs other person in the neck repeatedly, weighs down body with rocks and throws body in ocean. Other person is unmourned by all and I am given a posthumous medal when my diaries are published.]
posted by solid-one-love at 7:52 PM on September 5, 2005

I think his strategy is sound. Plowing headfirst into an argument and trying to convince someone they're wrong is no way to change the world.

I spent five years studying political science at a school where 80% of my classmates were of an opposite political inclination than mine - and talking-point regurgators at that - taught me that the point of any argument should be merely to best display a point of view.

People have an inbuilt prothelytizing filter.

Using words that detatch yourself from the situation, i.e. "many pro-choicers feel..." or "perhaps one could rebut that...", really help too.

One must see politics for what they are: not so much right vs. wrong but differences in priorities amongst many values.

For example, most liberals have a higher regard for some concept of social justice than they do property rights, wherein obviously most conservatives equate the idea of property rights with the very notion of liberty. Once those values are properly appraised, then the real debate can begin.
posted by trinarian at 7:55 PM on September 5, 2005

i meant to say the tactics were flawed though...
posted by trinarian at 7:56 PM on September 5, 2005

c13, I don't think it was a joke (or am I too dumb to get it?)

I find the artilce fascinating because (a) the writer strikes me as manipulative and condescending, but (b) my argumentative style is SOMEWHAT similar.

I certainly don't think I'm better than anyone else, and I cringe at the notion of trying to "improve" someone. On the other hand, I hate hate hate fighting. Some people love a good fight. I'm the opposite. Fighting deeply upsets me. I've often been in fights that ended with my fight-partner feeling all relaxed, saying things like, "Boy, I'm glad we got that out into the open" while I feel like shit. And I feel like shit even if I've "won" the argument. Just the feeling of having been in an argument can sometimes spoil my week.

Yes, I know arguments are sometimes good (or at least necessary) things. I know people need to vent. I know people tend to fight with those they love. None of this stops the rotten feeling I get -- the rotten feeling that lasts 10 times longer than the fight.

So I try to avoid fights. I try to balance this with NOT trying to avoid human contact, which I like and need. So what are good strategies for staying involved, showing you care, and yet avoiding as many fights as possible?

Unlike the link author, I don't try to reflect everything back to the person I'm fighting with. I try hard to talk about myself. I say things like, "I'm really uncomfortable fighting with you, but this is how I feel..."

I think this is significantly different from what the link author is advocating. Yet the fact that I refuse to yell or call names or participate in any other "dirty tricks" often makes people feel I don't care about them. If I cared about them more, I'd FIGHT with them dammit! I try my best to explain that I DO care about them, but that I'm just not comfortable fighting. I don't think they buy it.
posted by grumblebee at 8:01 PM on September 5, 2005

Crappy and stupid article. Great thread.
posted by parki at 8:04 PM on September 5, 2005

I am so with solid-one-love on this point. As a now ex-corporate clone, this sort of glib veneer is what passed as "meaningful dialogue" in my ex-company. It did nothing to communicate (heaven forbid if the salary-slaves started actually talking) and mostly just gave me severe stresss from holding back the urge to do violence upon the speaker.
posted by ninazer0 at 8:06 PM on September 5, 2005

Meh, I prefer to just keep the focus on myself and stay out of that nonsense in the first place. The title of that should have been, "How to waste all your time and energy on unproductive manipulation of your loved ones", or more simply, "How to be a douchebag."
posted by clubfoote at 8:08 PM on September 5, 2005

Crappy and stupid article. Great thread.

This is my higher self agreeing, and by doing so, not channeling that energy into beating the crap out of the author.
posted by Jazznoisehere at 8:13 PM on September 5, 2005

Yeah, I see what you mean, trinarian. When all positions are entrenched, nobody is going to be easily persuaded, and consensus is not going to arrive. So you have to simulate consensus by distancing yourself from both positions, pretending to be 'Fair and balanced'.

Also, formal political debate is a bit different from your standard 2-person discussion, because there's a stucture that's carefully designed to prevent consensus.

A Republican Senator who is suddenly persuaded that social justice is, after all, more important than private profit is going to have a hard time. He'll lose all his friends and position if he admits how he feels.

So the chances are, he'll deny his feelings, and hit the bottle, or Christian fundamentalism, rather than admit it and lose everything.

The same goes for a Democratic Senator who is one day persuaded that his huge mansion and investment fund is, after all, more important to him than the rights of the poor.

Difficult. If they admitted their consensus, the illusion of democracy would collapse.
posted by cleardawn at 8:21 PM on September 5, 2005

When I started reading this article, I found myself agreeing with him. If you try to "win" by proving the other person wrong and yourself right, it rarely works. Of course, as the article continues, he gives suggestions for contentless statements that no sane person would utter. Even worse, any person hearing this questions would be at best baffled and at worst upset at the condescenscion.

My personal technique for "winning" arguments is that you need to actually think about what could possibly change the other person's mind. You won't get there by simply explaining how their reasoning is fallacial or their facts flat out wrong, even if that is the case. All you'll end up doing is giving the impression that you think they are stupid or ignorant. So in order to change the other person's mind, you have to approach the disagreement from a different angle. Try and reduce the disagreement down to a miscommunication. Most disagreements are a case of badly communicated concepts anyway, and people are far more willing to agree to a particular crossed wire of dialogue than to admit that they're stupid. Often I find that the whole mess can be reduced down to a different meaning of a single word.

When it becomes clear to me that I disagree fundamentally with someone, I stop trying to put forth my idea and instead try to understand the other person's chain of reasoning. If it boils down to different definitions, it's usually pretty easy to get the other person to see your point under the circumstances of your definition. If it boils down to different values, then you can sometimes get the other person to at least understand your viewpoint even if they don't agree with it. If the argument is about something concrete that needs to be decided, this is often enough to get a little tolerance. You can almost always get someone down to one of these two situations unless they get upset and don't want to talk anymore. (By the way, you should respect this decision if they make it.) If you try to follow their reasoning carefully, they'll usually weed out any logical fallacies and bad data on their own, finding other reasons to support what they believe.

In any case, I don't find that I "win" arguments like this very often, but I do find that I can actually get a bridge of communication this way, where some extra understanding goes both ways, and in my opinion, that's better than just agreeing to disagree any day.
posted by ErWenn at 8:27 PM on September 5, 2005

Grumblebee, I feel like that too, if the argument didn't resolve in consensus. It can completely ruin my mood for days if I and my loved one have even a minor row that we don't resolve.

On the other hand, when we fix it - even if it's just "I'm sorry we argued" - 'I'm sorry too" - that makes the pain go away, pretty much instantly. And suddenly, we can laugh about the very thing we were yelling at each other about.

Maybe you and I are very different psychologically, or maybe your arguments are not finishing in consensus?

BTW this is an excellent subject for a post, and thanks for bringing it up!
posted by cleardawn at 8:32 PM on September 5, 2005

Smug condescension 101. Useful perhaps for a government employee hellbent on not acceding to a request from the general public.

That said, occasionally I've used this kind of shtick in higly emotive situations to kind of deflect some energy. It's an occasionally useful form of defense +/- reframer. But anyone who must follow a certain formula to get their point across will often seem superficial anyway. I'm just as likely to disregard them for their vacuousness and not give a flying fuck about the outcome of the argument.
posted by peacay at 8:35 PM on September 5, 2005

I hate arguing.
posted by corpse at 8:41 PM on September 5, 2005

Argument is an intellectual process. Contradiction is just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.

No it isn't.
posted by parki at 8:49 PM on September 5, 2005

Cassford--It reminded me of the same thing. My husband had to take one of those courses awhile back and it made him insufferable. I broke him of it by getting him into endless "active listening" loops. "I hear that you hear that I hear that you hear that I think we should stay home and rent a movie tonight..."

FWIW, I love to argue.
posted by jrossi4r at 9:02 PM on September 5, 2005

Passive-aggressive all the way. I think the final purpose of argument is not to cause change in another person, but to find the point where two people differ on such a fundamental level that they cannot be convinced of something by debate alone. This won't be accomplished if the other person declines to be a part of the argument.

He wants to be a mirror for the other person, but what if someone comes along who has the same idea? Two mirrors pointed at each other?
posted by Laugh_track at 9:13 PM on September 5, 2005

This isn't an article about arguing, it's an article about avoiding an argument.
No, it isn't.
Yes, it is.
No, it isn't.
Yes, it is.
No, it isn't.
Why do you think you're so worked up about this?
posted by fungible at 9:19 PM on September 5, 2005

With all due respect, Thirty - Eight Ways to Win an Argument from Schopenhauer's "The Art of Controversy" (1831) is still much better.
posted by dov at 9:21 PM on September 5, 2005

The whole reason why sane arguments become insanely horrible is because they become emotionally charged, so asking "Why do you feel this way?" is only the way to win an argument if your definition of "win" is "feel superior because your opponent is angry and you're calm" which is probably more common than most people would like to admit. On the other hand, the article is correct that logic and correctness alone will rarely win you an argument, and sometimes winning isn't worth it. I'd say a better balance is:

1.) Use logic and facts
2.) Don't take anything personally
3.) If someone else is taking things personally, end the argument or at least try and defuse the tension with some humor (it doesn't actually have to be funny, just be friendly and not insulting/condescending)
posted by dagnyscott at 9:43 PM on September 5, 2005

so saying, "Dagnyscott, at least you seem to have nice typing skills." would probably be right out, then.
posted by Balisong at 11:13 PM on September 5, 2005

You're all stupid poopy-heads and I rule!!!

<on preview>Why does it bother you so much that I rule?!
posted by bigbigdog at 11:55 PM on September 5, 2005

So, does anyone have a link to a good article on how to argue properly? I would love to read it.
posted by blue shadows at 11:59 PM on September 5, 2005

I think the final purpose of argument is not to cause change in another person, but to find the point where two people differ on such a fundamental level that they cannot be convinced of something by debate alone

more simply, a productive argument highlights where the sides "part company" wrt facts or interpretations therefrom.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 12:26 AM on September 6, 2005

"TV game show" type noises help a lot.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:35 AM on September 6, 2005

Socratic Irony - the only way to win an arguement!
posted by ironisokratic at 1:39 AM on September 6, 2005

Yikes. If the author really has all that stuff going around in his head during an arguement it's a wonder he is able to hear much less comprehend anything the other person is saying.

Maybe he just imagines he's winning all these arguements and is still in his "trance".
posted by bat at 1:59 AM on September 6, 2005

One of my rules of thumb is that whenever I hear the term "psycho-babble" employed during an argument, I pretty much know right away that the person deploying it has no interest in any thing approximating truth -- they're in the fight to "win" by counting whatever coup they need to on their "opponent."

That's not an argument I need to have.

That's not really an argument anyone needs to have.

The closest that anyone here has come to actually understanding this article appears to be this:

It's about how to avoid [an argument] entirely while still having a contentious discussion that might, at first glance, pass for an argument.

Um. Yeah. As though having an argument is necessarily a good thing.

I would say that this article is about how to turn an argument into a discussion. Arguments are usually useless, AFAIAC. All arguments ever do is find winners. "Victory" in an argument seldom has very much to do with the merit of either side's case, and often has a great deal to do with who's better at emotionally manipulating the other participant.
posted by lodurr at 3:18 AM on September 6, 2005

Clay201 nailed it.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:32 AM on September 6, 2005

...maybe your arguments are not finishing in consensus?

cleardawn, I think my problem is simpler than that. I just don't have a good "bounce-back" application running in my head. For instance, if the doctor told me I had cancer and then, five minutes later, he said, "Oh, sorry, I looked at the wrong chart. You're fine." I would not feel fine. I would not feel relief washing over me. I would still be living the "You have cancer" shock for many hours before my mind would let me feel the "no you don't" relief. I wish I knew why this was. What makes it worse is that it only happens with bad stuff. If you tell me, "You won a million dollars" and then say, "Oops, I'm wrong. You didn't," I can't bask in the happiness that came with "You won." I instantly feel the "Oops." Maybe this is because my internal world view is pessimistic. Perhaps the bad news slots into my mind more easily than the good news.

In any case, this is why the bad feeling from DURING the argument lingers for so long -- even if the argument has a good result. Even if I win. And during the argument, I KNOW that I will feel that way after it's over, so it's pretty impossible for me to argue in-the-moment. I'm focused on the If-I-lose-I-lose-If-I-win-I-lose outcome.
posted by grumblebee at 6:15 AM on September 6, 2005

Lodurr: I can think of plenty of times that arguments do matter and are important. As in just about any time that people need to decide on a course of action. If someone is supporting, say, curtailment of privacy laws, it's important to dissuade them. All of this gobbledy-gook about making them "own their position" is less effective than simply sussing out their motivation and showing that their actions won't lead to the outcome that they desire.
posted by klangklangston at 6:24 AM on September 6, 2005

IMO the purpose of argument is to arrive at the last logical statement of something that can reasonably called truth that the parties agree upon. Usually, it's after that that the parties must split ways based on the interpretation.

What else would be the point of an argument?
posted by Miko at 6:33 AM on September 6, 2005

Lodurr, how often (in your experience) does that actually work? I've RARELY seen a reason-based argument in which one side has convinced the other side of anything. This is why we need mechanisms like voting. At some point, we generally need to say, "well, I guess I'll never convince you and you'll never convince me, so lets take a vote" or "roll the dice" or whatever.

I wonder how often jury members actually convince each other that someone is innocent or guilty. Pretty much everyone that has talked to me about serving on a jury has given in by being worn down (realizing that there's no way they were going to convince the other jurors). Their final vote has had little to do with rational discussion.
posted by grumblebee at 6:36 AM on September 6, 2005

I've RARELY seen a reason-based argument in which one side has convinced the other side of anything.
And yet people change their beliefs all the time. The trick is to recognize that while one might rarely witness an epiphany by one side in the course of an argument (if for no reason other than a fear of losing face), a sufficiently high-quality defense of an alternative point of view can lead to a re-evaluation of positions in the long term. Reason-based arguments only seem futile if one thinks one has to "win" by getting the other party to openly admit defeat.
posted by Goedel at 7:08 AM on September 6, 2005

A Republican Democratic Senator who is suddenly persuaded that social justice is, after all, more important than private profit is going to have a hard time. But much a little hilarity will ensue.
posted by Cassford at 7:30 AM on September 6, 2005

It only seldom works, but one thing I've tried in the when someone is obstinately disagreeing with something I know is correct is to say "What would you have to see or hear to change your mind." Usually that end sthe discussion. My interlocutor says "Nothing, because no such thing exists, " which means I hold my belief as a faith, not a rational piece of knowledge. I usually just say "Well, my work is done here" and wander off.

Occassionally, the other person actually comes up with something and it helps me to come up with more convincing arguments. Very rarely.
posted by Cassford at 7:34 AM on September 6, 2005

And yet people change their beliefs all the time ... rarely in the course of an argument ... [but rather] a re-evaluation of positions in the long term.

People do (occasionally) change their beliefs, but if the change comes so long after the argument(s), what leads you to believe that the argument(s) caused the change?

In my experience, changes in belief are mostly caused by unexpected, un-asked-for changes in life events. For instance, a loved-one's death may challange someone's belief (or lack of belief) in God. Or kindness from a black stranger may challange someone's racism.
posted by grumblebee at 9:23 AM on September 6, 2005

In my experience, changes in belief are mostly caused by unexpected, un-asked-for changes in life events.

In my experience, sudden changes are seldom really sudden, and happen in quiet moments, rather than loud ones.
posted by lodurr at 10:53 AM on September 6, 2005

In my experience, sudden changes are seldom really sudden, and happen in quiet moments, rather than loud ones.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 4:51 PM on September 6, 2005

grumblebee, you say: "changes in belief are mostly caused by unexpected, un-asked-for changes in life events."

That's the most painful way to learn.

There are also some pain-free, even pleasant ways to learn. Reading, for example, and conversation. We're all doing it here (pats self smugly on back). No pain involved!

If you've never changed a belief as a result of reading books, for instance, then you've been reading the wrong books!

When we learn (=change beliefs) in a painless way, we maybe don't even realise that we're changing. It's less obvious. Most of us don't even notice that our beliefs change slightly with every newspaper article we read.

But there's another way to change beliefs, which is the rarest, I think, and the best, and that's through quiet, personal reflection, or meditation.

Sitting under a tree in the sunshine, and opening yourself out to seeing what the world really is like. Dropping your guards and barriers for a second, and just perceiving the world as it really is.

At the risk of sounding religious, this whole world is something we got for free, and so when we stop struggling for a second, and just look at what we've got, the natural gratitude that comes through is the source of real personal creativity and joy. There's always something new to learn from that.

Talking of "consensus", perhaps what I mean here is the sense of being in consensus with Reality.

Or something. :-))

This is a good link about formal consensus decision making. Or, how to have a discussion in such a way that everyone (eventually) wins.
posted by cleardawn at 7:14 AM on September 7, 2005

cleardawn, I agree with everything you say -- those ARE all good ways to learn and change. If we disagree, it's about how many people are open to these learning methods. I suspect a tiny minority. Perhaps you think most people learn via these great techniques. (I'm not sure whether or not we have a disagreement. You list methods of learning. You don't actually claim people use these methods.)

We can't prove our points. Who knows how people learn? My belief is based on my (admittedly anecdotal) observation of the people I've known in my life. They all seem to hold pretty unshakable opinions. The rare times when these opinions change are prompted by traumatic events.
posted by grumblebee at 5:41 AM on September 9, 2005

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