When you disagree with someone, how can you keep the argument focused on the issues?
You don’t want to get sidetracked, and you especially don’t want the discussion to turn into a screaming match.
The previous blog post (“How to Argue Productively”) explained how to manage the logical side of an argument.
This blog post explains how to manage the psychological side of an argument.
People aren’t robots. They have emotions. They need to feel safe and respected. They often identify their beliefs with themselves. If you attack their beliefs, they sometimes feel as if you’re attacking them. When that happens, they stop thinking about the subject of the argument and start thinking about “defending themselves.”
Here are some tips:
- Start off by reviewing the points on which you both agree.
- Keep the focus on the issues under discussion.
- Keep the focus away from the people in the discussion.
- In general, avoid making statements about the person with whom you’re arguing. Be careful about any statement that starts with the word “you.”
- When you agree with the other person’s arguments, clearly express your agreement. You can even praise an argument if the praise is sincere.
- If it’s appropriate and won’t make you seem like a psycho, smile.
- At the end of the discussion, sum up what you think are the conclusions. Ask the other person if he or she thinks you’ve given an accurate summary.
The American writer Dale Carnegie gave some wonderful advice in his famous book How to Win Friends and Influence People:
A man convinced against his will, Is of the same opinion still.
Check out my new book, Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Foreword Reviews said it’s “intriguing and vital.”