The latest study that’s been making its way around the webs lately is all about how to win any argument.

I get where they’re coming from. I understand the attraction. And I also have a hard time with the idea that arguments have to be “won.”

Instead, I tend to agree more with 18th-century French philosopher Joseph Joubert, who said: 

“The aim of an argument or discussion should not be victory, but progress.”

When we focus only on winning, we tend to lose sight of the actual point of the argument. I’ve certainly been know to jump through some logical “hoops” in my day, in pursuit of “victory”… only to realize that in the end, everyone walks away angry or hurt, and the issue we were arguing has only become muddier.

Fortunately, it turns out that this new method of “winning” an argument is a bit different.

Here’s what you do:

The idea is extremely simple: When you’re talking to someone with an opposing point of view, ask them to describe exactly how their idea works, from cause through to effect, every step along the way.

Here’s why it works:

Our brains process a lot of information. In order to avoid a constant overload, we have to use some shortcuts now and then. Sometimes it’s in the form of an unconscious filter (like the Semmelweis reflex, or confirmation bias). Other times, it’s just a straight-up leap of reasoning. We here a point of view that seems basically sensible, and as long as it fits our existing worldview (there’s that confirmation bias again!) we tend to just accept it as obviously true.

Advertisers, con-artists, and political campaigners love these shortcuts.

But by asking someone to lay out the argument step by step and describe how the whole process works, you’re forcing them to fill in that gap in their thought process. You’re saying “hey, no shortcuts here. Take me through this the long way.”

Here’s why it’s even better than it seems:

Want to really get some clarity in life? Want to be sure that you aren’t being blindly duped by the daily bombardment of advertising and propaganda?

Turn the technique on yourself.

All you have to do is create an “argument” in your head. Only, this time, you’re the one who has to describe the process. If you’re alone, it can work well to imagine someone that you respect to whom you have to explain your argument. Write it down, if it helps.

It’s not perfect.

Remember confirmation bias? It’s a pervasive part of how our brains work, and it means that you’ve likely thrown out a lot valuable information on any given topic. If you’re practicing arguing with yourself, you’re best off actually doing a bit of research on opposing opinions, or even finding someone who’s willing to have an actual friendly debate.

It’s only when we start to realize how much we don’t know–that we thought we did–that we truly start to learn.

Have you ever used this technique in an argument? How about on yourself? Head on down to the comments and tell me how it worked out!


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