Arguments are tricky. We spend a lot of our time trying to persuade others. We think that if we show them the facts that we have they will, logically, reach the same conclusions we did. Unfortunately that’s not how it works. When is the last time someone changed your mind this way?
Sometimes we don’t want to argue. We’d rather avoid. This doesn’t make the problem go away. In fact the suppressed resentment that builds up can poison a relationship.
In his book, How to Argue, Jonathan Herring outlines positive ways of understanding and looking at arguments.
We should treat the ability to argue as a skill that needs to be practiced and developed.
Arguments, and for that matter discussions, should be about seeing things through the other person’s eyes. They should lead to a better understanding of another person’s view.
With that in mind, here are what Herring calls the Ten Golden Rules of Argument.
1. Be prepared
Also, Herring advises: “Before starting an argument think carefully about what it is you are arguing about and what it is you want. This may sound obvious. But it’s critically important. What do you really want from this argument? Do you want the other person to just understand your point of view? Or are you seeking a tangible result? If it’s a tangible result, you must ask yourself whether this result you have in mind is realistic and whether it’s obtainable. If it’s not realistic or obtainable, then a verbal battle might damage a valuable relationship.”
2. When to argue, when to walk away
I’m sure you’ve had an argument before and later felt that it was the wrong time and place. “Knowing when to enter into an argument and when not to is a vital skill.”
3. What you say and how you say it
One clever thing to do here, that shows you’ve done the work, is to address the arguments against your position before they arise.
4. Listen and listen again
As a general rule, Herring writes, “you should spend more time listening than talking. Aim for listening for 75 percent of the conversation and giving your own arguments 25 percent.” And listening doesn’t mean that you’re thinking about what you’re going to say next.
This is often where a lot of arguments, and discussions for that matter, veer off course. If you’re not listening to the other person and addressing their statements, you’ll just keep making your same points over and over. The other person won’t agree with those and the argument quickly becomes frustrating.
5. Excel at responding to arguments
There are three main ways to respond to an argument: 1) challenge the facts the other person is using; 2) challenge the conclusions they draw from those facts; and 3) accept the point, but argue the weighting of that point (i.e., other points should be considered above this one.)
6. Watch out for crafty tricks
7. Develop the skills of arguing in public
8. Be able to argue in writing
9. Be great at resolving deadlock
10. Maintain relationships
Another approach to end arguments is to simply ask the other person to explain their thinking.
How to Argue goes on to explore putting the rules into practice in particular situations where arguments arise.
This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.
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