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Thursday, March 2, 2017

How to avoid winning an argument but losing the battle

Also known as how not to win over others.  I've been known to read and post opinions on sports, political and other forums.  I've observed a few things on debating and trying to win others over to your point of view.  Now, I don't expect everyone who reads this to necessarily agree with me, but I'm trying to feed others with food for thought.

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  • Try if possible to find common ground with others.
    • That doesn't mean conceding or selling out on your core values.
    • What it does mean is offering others an opportunity to be right.  
      • Reasonable people can accept not being right all the time, but
      • Reasonable people will rebel against you if they perceive that you are always labeling wrong or attacking them.  A person may be completely wrong on a point, but if he or she feels under attack, they are more likely to double down on the point.  Pride kicks in--they'd rather stick to their guns than accept or tolerate being attacked.
    • If offers others the chance to see you as being 'reasonable', but possibly 'misguided' on some issues. This will at least keep them listening to you.  As long as they are listening to you (and not just hearing you), you still have a chance to win them over.
    • If those who you are debating meet your good faith efforts with scorn, derision or ridicule, chances are they weren't open to being reasonable anyways.  But, at least you know not to waste more time engaging them. 
  • If others tries to drag the debate or argument into the mud, don't go there with them.
    • Ad hominem or personal attacks may for a moment make you feel better especially if the others are attacking you.
      • If the other party is stuck on stupid or rude, it isn't like attacking them will suddenly correct their ignorance or silence their rudeness.
      • It is demeaning to you and your better self.  You can do better than that.
      • They may turn off others who are undecided about your point of view.
    • They may be more skilled than you rolling in the mud metaphorically.  The saying, "Never argue with an idiot.  They will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience" hold true here.
    • If you maintain your composure and rhetorically destroy their arguments, you may not 'prevail' vs. whom you are debating/arguing with.  However, you might win points with witnesses to the debate/discussion.  People respect an intelligent person who can effectively argue and who doesn't get stuck rolling around in the mud.
  • Pick your battles wisely.
    • You have to know when a point is not worth fighting for.
      • The point is not important or significant to the larger argument.  It would be like a salesman quibbling over $50 on a $20,000 and risking the entire sale. 
      • Time/effort spent on an insignificant point is better spent on a substantive point.  Like being penny-wise and pound foolish.
      • If an adversary sees you getting stuck on the smaller point, he or she might get the idea to clutter up the argument with smaller points as a way of sidelining you in the larger argument. 
      • If others see you get stuck on 'winning' an insignificant point, they may lose interest or patience with your overall point or argument.   
    • You have to know when a point is worth fighting for.
      • It can be a seemingly insignificant point.
        • But if it is the first real battle or point, conceding too much on it can set a bad precedent.  For example, if you let your child roll you when he or she is young, he or she might get the impression that they can always roll you.
        • It may seem small in and of itself, but like the fabled butterfly effect, that point may end up being larger in the bigger picture.  For example, if you allow yourself to be bullied by family or a panhandler into giving him a few dollars once, everytime you see him, they may harass you for money everytime you see them and each time it may be more and more money.
      • It is clearly a major point that will have obvious and larger/longer-term implications.  Debating the wisdom of a given tax policy is a good example of this.  If you tax too little, you may not have enough to cover basic services.  If you tax too much, you may discourage people frrom working as hard or trying to start a business.

It is always best to find common ground where possible when dealing with others, but sometimes it is impossible.  It is important however to recognize if what you are fighting for or over is worth it or not.  Don't risk dying on a hill when the larger mountainside is ready to be scaled.  Just as importantly, it is important to not get drawn into an emotional argument where it can be nearly impossible to 'come out on top'.  Whatever you do howeve, don't expect you'll convince many people to conceded their point by attacking or humiliating them.  At the point where an argument or debate gets personal, you've probably already lost the ability to change minds.  But, if you don't care at least be clever in your 'attacks'.  If you are clever enough in your 'attacks', you stand at least a little chance of respect for using your intelligence.

The big takeaway is to keep the larger battle in mind when 'fighting' over a smaller point.