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debate

Arguing Without Anger

Can we talk?

Red people and blue people are at it again. Neither side seems to accept that the other side consists of real people with real ideas that are worth listening to. Debate is out. Contempt is in.

As a result, our nation is highly polarized.  To work our way out of the current stalemate, we need to listen closely and speak wisely. We need to debate effectively rather than arguing angrily. Here are some tips:

It’s not about winning, it’s about winning over – too often we talk about winning an argument. But defeating an opponent is not the same as winning him over to your side. Aim for agreement, not a crushing blow.

It’s not about values – our values are deeply held. We don’t change them easily. You’re not going to convert a red person into a blue person or vice-versa. Aim to change their minds, not their values.

Stick to the future tense – the only reason to argue in the past tense is to assign blame. That’s useful in a court of law but not in the court of public opinion. Stick to the future tense, where you can present choices and options. That’s where you can change minds. (Tip: don’t ever argue with a loved one in the past tense. Even if you win, you lose.)

The best way to disagree is to begin by agreeing – the other side wants to know that you take them seriously. If you immediately dismiss everything they say, you’ll never persuade them. Start by finding points of agreement. Even if you’re at opposite ends of the spectrum, you can find something to agree to.

Don’t fall for the anger mongers – both red and blue commentators prey on our pride to sell anger. They say things like, “The other side hates you. They think you’re dumb. They think they’re superior to you.” The technique is known as attributed belittlement and it’s the oldest trick in the book. Don’t fall for it.

Don’t fall into the hypocrisy trap – both red and blue analysts are willing to spin for their own advantage. Don’t assume that one side is hypocritical while the other side is innocent.

Beware of demonizing words – it’s easy to use positive words for one side and demonizing words for the other side. For example: “We’re proud. They’re arrogant.” “We’re smart. They’re sneaky.” It’s another old trick. Don’t fall for it.

Show some respect – just because people disagree with you is no reason to treat them with contempt. They have their reasons. Show some respect even if you disagree.

Be skeptical – the problems we’re facing as a nation are exceptionally complex. Anyone who claims to have a simple solution is lying.

Burst your bubble – open yourself up to sources you disagree with. Talk with people on the other side. We all live in reality bubbles. Time to break out.

Give up TV — talking heads, both red and blue, want to tell you what to think. Reading your own sources can help you learn how to think.

Aim for the persuadable – you’ll never convince some people. Don’t waste your breath. Talk with open-minded people who describe themselves as moderates. How can you tell they’re open-minded? They show respect, don’t belittle, agree before disagreeing, and are skeptical of both sides.

Engage in arguments – find people who know how to argue without anger. Argue with them. If they’re red, take a blue position. If they’re blue, take a red position. Practice the art of arguing. You’re going to need it.

Remember that the only thing worse than arguing is not arguing – We know how to argue. Now we need to learn to argue without anger. Our future may depend on it.

Activate Your Friends, Energize Your Enemies

In highly political situations, your ability to speak eloquently may actually work to your disadvantage. By speaking forcefully about a political objective, you may activate your friends but thoroughly energize your opponents. Your friends may support your objectives but without a great deal of energy. Your opponents, on the other hand, may be thoroughly alarmed by your presentations and highly energized to oppose your initiative. You can provoke a strong immune response from your opponents that can swamp even the best laid plans.

This happens regularly in political situations — especially during election campaigns. When one side speaks for something, the other side is motivated to increase the volume when speaking against it. Even if it’s a perfectly logical proposal, the mere fact that one side is pushing it hard may cause the other side to push back even harder.

Does this happen in business situations? All the time. But in business, the immune response is often cloaked. (In politics, the conflict is right out in the open — which may be healthier). If your business is highly political, you may find that speaking strongly for an initiative simply activates your opposition and weakens your position. If you think that’s happening to you, don’t stop speaking for your initiative but be sure to reach out to the opposition to look for common ground and areas of agreement. You need to make the first move — your opponents are not going to come to you. Look for private, face-to-face meetings with your opponents to clear the air and bridge the gap. You can learn more in the video.

By the way, the book I mention in the video is Beyond Ideology: Politics, Principles, and Partisanship in the U.S. Senate by France E. Lee. You can find it here on Amazon.

The Difference Between Debates & Battles

debateThe words “debate” and “battle” stem from the same root, so you might expect to use similar tactics in each.  However, if you use battle tactics in a debate, you’re likely to lose. In a battle, two parties are involved – you and the enemy. A debate involves a third party as well — the audience. In a battle, you’re trying to defeat the enemy. Debate tactics are quite different. In a debate, you’re trying to use your speaking skills to win to over the audience. The different objectives may call for very different tactics. Above all, you must know your audience to win a debate. That’s even more important than knowing the competition. Check out the video.

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