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A Useful Skill That Everyone Can Benefit From: How To Avoid Pointless Arguments

November 14, 2013 | 3 Comments » | Topics: How To

Ask three questions before engaging in any conversation:

1) Do you both agree on the purpose of what you’re arguing about?

For example, if engaging in an argument about government policy, do you both agree on what the purpose of government is? If you don’t agree on the purpose, you’ll never sway each other as you’re arguing two different things.

2) Can I change this person’s opinion?

Is the person the type of person who makes decisions based on logic and reason, or are they ruled by emotion? If they’re ruled by emotion, no logic or reason, no matter how sound, will sway them. Try literally asking them “what could I provide that would sway your opinion?”

3) Will I benefit if this person’s opinion is changed?

Let’s say you succeed and change the opinion of a random dude on the internet… and? What did you gain?

4) Am I prepared to listen and have my opinion changed?

If any of these 4 questions can be answered with a “no”, do not engage in the discussion.

You will find this process will cause you to avoid most arguments.



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  • jakov handdrill

    advice for complete idiots

    • an idiot

      Is this where we argue?

  • DocViewer

    Few comments.

    One, I count four questions not “three” Sorry, cheap shot, had to.

    Two, question 1. If you think you can or should delimit the bounds of conversation before having one, you haven’t had many conversations about important or complicated issues. It turns out that most disagreements aren’t about the surface disagreement, they are about deeper more abstract more general things. Unless you talk things out, you’ll never find those things out, you won’t discover what the other person really thinks about the world, and maybe you won’t find out what you really believe.

    Three, question 2. It’s tough to say what really changes people’s opinions. Actually having someone admit you’ve changed their mind during a conversation is really rare, even if they’re Spock and only swayed by logic and reason. Even if they’re only “ruled by emotion”, having someone express a contrary opinion to them might help break them out of that. You probably won’t find out they’ve changed their mind. It might happen days, weeks, or years afterwards. They might not remember it was you that helped change their mind; you might not remember. But it won’t have any chance of happening if you try to prejudge whether or not your superior reasoning abilities can overcome their emotionally chosen position.

    Four, question 3, what does changing their position matter? You have to come up with arguments that will probably help you figure out what you actually believe, you get practice making and delivering arguments. You’ll probably benefit more than they will. Besides if your discussion is happening on the internet, you never know who’s going to read it and be convinced.

    Five, question 4, this one is probably the closest one to being right, but given my comment about question 3, there are selfish reasons for engaging in discussions. On the other hand, if you’re not listening you’re not going to make arguments that will have any chance of convincing them, maybe your comments won’t even be relevant.

    Anyway, I feel a little funny writing a comment longer than the article, but like I said, you never know who’s going to read your stuff on the internet.


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