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For the Sake of Argument

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We humans are a lovely bunch. Despite the Darwin-explained ‘superior’ intellect, what really sets mankind apart from other species is not its love for the unknown, but its love to argue. Think about it. Nothing beats the thrill of a good argument, especially one where you know you’re right. But how many times have you been in an argument which you know you can’t win?

The root cause of such table-flipping standoffs is the fact that human nature, and/or stupidity, demands that we remain stoic in certain opinions regarding issues that healthy arguments would benefit the most – issues of religion, politics, and philosophy. Since we are ridiculously hostile towards change, we are easily threatened by ideas that challenge what we believe and choose to ignore such arguments, however well-supported they are. The question thus arises – how do you present an argument in a way that compels your audience, and in particular, your adversaries, to listen?

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The problem with the way we argue is that we generally view arguments as strictly black-and-white. There are always winners or losers, right or wrong, Marvel or DC, milk first or cereal first. Especially in controversial matters where conflict is inevitable, it might prove useful to remember that those murky grey areas can provide the perfect opportunity for a truce. Such an argument, which explores both sides to find common ground, rather than claim an absolute truth, is called a Rogerian Argument and was first suggested by psychologist Carl Rogers. Rogers reasoned that people tend to make judgments about and discard the validity of their opponent’s arguments before they understand it. While a traditional argument focuses on winning, a Rogerian one works on seeking a solution which is mutually satisfactory.

Rogers’ approach was simple – before deeming a viewpoint that may be different from yours as invalid, try to understand what it’s like to believe that. Maybe that pineapple pizza loving freak just really digs the whole sweet-and-savoury fusion. By thoroughly understanding your opponent’s position, you can manipulate your argument into (seemingly) serving their best interests, thus increasing the likelihood of their approbation. By first showing your audience that you not only understand their differing position but also deem their views as valid, you create a classic ‘monkey see, monkey do’ scenario – your audience is more likely to listen to you if you convince them that you have listened to them. So, the next time you spark the whole ‘what comes first – the milk or the cereal’ debate, you might want to take Rogers’ approach and realise that it really doesn’t matter, as long as you don’t forget the bowl.

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