How to argue effectively and why you need to learn
People have become very bad at the gentle art of arguing and they do not know how to argue effectively anymore. As a former dedicated debater, I love a good argument. Arguing is part of philosophy, and art, and science. Arguments are how we come to truths. Arguments are how we get better ideas.
Social media causes people to argue badly
This week we had an election in Australia and the more conservative party won. There were calls from the winning politician for people to “get better at disagreeing with each other”.
“It will be my job over the next three years to try and lead that discussion in a better way where we can disagree on things but at the same time be able to… work together,” said the winning candidate.
The campaign he ran was besieged by “real nastiness”, including eggings, vehicles being set on fire, and death threats. Honestly guys, when did we get so bad at arguing, and begin to literally attack those who hold different beliefs? There were many articles about how upset the “left” got at the election result, calling people who voted for the winning party bigots, homophobes, women-haters and climate change deniers.
“When we go on the attack on social media, we demonise the individual who disagrees with us, and we shut down the possibility of constructive communication and civil discourse,” says journalist and commentator Aubrey Perry. I couldn’t agree more. Her calls for a “collective deep breath” are more relevant than ever in this world of trolling, flaming, blocking and doxing. Why have we become so afraid of a good, old fashioned argument?
Why arguing is good for us
Arguing effectively allows us to get to the root of a problem, bring up the surrounding issues, and to nut them out with another person, or group of people. Yes, we can formulate theories on our own, but when we work together, people more easily point out issues that we might have missed.
We all have a different set of life experiences, and this causes us to have differing opinions and understandings of the world. Arguing effectively with others truly opens our minds, and is creative. New concepts and learnings can be uncovered, and theories can be refined. Old ideas can be dropped, as new ideas are discovered.
Arguing is about growth – so many people have forgotten that and seem to think of arguments as a negative thing. Not so – a good debate is invigorating and can leave everyone richer than before. Learning how to argue effectively is something to pay attention to.
Arguments in ancient Greece
Ancient Greek philosophy paved the way for the democracy and freedoms that we now associate with the prosperity of the West. “Ancient Greek philosophy opened the doors to a particular way of thinking that provided the roots for the Western intellectual tradition,” writes the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. How to argue effectively was something that concerned some of the most well known historical figures.
Some of the famous philosophers below made use of arguing to nail down their positions on their positions on man, God, life after death, the natural world, and ethics. For example:
- Socrates used argument to make a sustained inquiry into ethical matters, concerning himself with elements of human living and the best life available.
- Plato initiated arguments on creative and flexible philosophy, and had an interest in ethics, political thought, metaphysics, and epistemology.
- Aristotle used argument to investigate the natural world, and had a particular interest around the composition of animals.
- The Hellenists (Epicurus, the Cynics, the Stoics, and the Skeptics) developed schools or movements devoted to distinct philosophical lifestyles, each with reason at its foundation. These were based heavily on debating and philosophizing.
What science says about arguments
There have been many studies done that indicate that arguing is actually good for us, and that side stepping confrontation could actually cause us more stress, and impact our personal relationships.
“Avoiding conflict was associated with more symptoms of physical problems the next day than was actually engaging in an argument,” according to a study on arguing by the American Psychological Association. How to argue effectively is something we should concern ourselves with.
“Bypassing bickering was also associated with abnormal rises and falls of the stress hormone cortisol throughout the day.” The study found that avoiding arguments caused more negative feelings than the study participants who actively engaged in thoughtful debate and confrontation.
Psychology Today also has an article on the scientific benefits of arguing. This study showed that waiting until “hot” emotions had cooled down was the best way to have a level-headed, productive discussion. The three tips provided were:
- Don’t see argument as a threat, rather, view it as a useful tool.
- Wait until you are “ready” to argue, and emotions have calmed.
- Be flexible. Don’t have set expectations of how an argument should work out.
- Remember that we are all vulnerable. Take the other person’s feelings into account.
How to argue more effectively
I have scoured the web and come up with how the experts suggest you strategise your arguments more effectively. Or, check out my post The 7 steps to fighting fairly. Avoiding trolls on social media is impossible now, but learning how to argue effectively will help you feel better and get more done in a more productive way.
Learn to listen: practice keeping your mouth closed and your ears open. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak, actively listen to the points being brought up. Really try to listen to the other person, wholeheartedly.
Be open to new perspectives: keep an open mind and allow yourself to change your position over the course of the argument. Use the notion of “yes, and” rather than “no, but” and try not to shut down avenues of thought.
Play the ball, not the man: discuss and debate the topics and subjects being brought up, never question the person’s morals, intelligence, or ability to have an argument as this will just shut down any progressive thought.
Never get personal: never, ever use the Hitler defense (Reductio ad Hitlerum), or call the person a bigot, homophobe, sexist, racist etc. as this will just shut down the argument and make the person not want to listen to anything you have to say.
Never revert to insults: when you insult someone, you lower the bar of the argument and make debating impossible. Question and debate the surrounding theories of an argument but never shut down debate by reverting to petty insults.
Feel free to change your thinking: It’s actually a terrific thing to end an argument with a different philosophical and moral position than you entered it. This shows personal growth and that you’re ‘getting to the heart’ of an issue.
Be polite: Keep things civil. Take turns to speak, don’t interrupt. Don’t waffle on for too long. Never storm out of an argument like a child. Never use insults, never revert to physical confrontation and never, ever gossip or badmouth someone.
Learn when to walk away: If you really can’t see eye to eye and the argument has failed to progress, then feel free to walk away. Often it is after an argument that we get our real findings, as concepts take some time to boil down in our minds.
Learn How to argue effectively and see the relationships in your life improve.
“I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job.” – Margaret Thatcher