Arguing: Whats the point? (part 1 of 3)

Arguing seems to get a bad rap in our culture. Why is it that we have such negative connotations with such a useful way of passing ideas? I believe its for 3 reasons:

  1. It is easy to argue with the wrong goal in mind. (It’s not to ‘win’)
  2. It is easy to begin to argue the person, rather than the topic.
  3. It is easier to talk than it is to listen. Especially when you are hearing an opposing viewpoint.

To begin, I should define what I call arguing. Some people may say “I don’t like to argue, I’d rather discuss the topic calmly.” I would argue (pun intended) that if you are discussing any topic, where you take a different stance than your partner, and you discuss the difference, that is an argument. To argue means to ‘present the reasons for supporting and/or defending something.’ That being said, a domestic dispute, where a couple is screaming at the top of their lungs ensued by a neighbor calling the police, is also arguing… but it borders on downright fighting, which is not the topic I’m presenting here.

The first statement, arguing with the wrong goal in mind, comes up when a person enters an argument with the goal of trying to change the others mind, rather than trying to understand the reasons why they follow that line of thinking. I think it can generally be assumed and agreed upon that we all think differently. However, with a friend, it can also be assumed that our the friend thinks similarly to us. After all, that’s probably a good reason why we are friends. Now, because we all think differently, it seems logical that we may diverge at some point along our line of thinking. The goal of having an argument is to find where that point is, and understand the person enough to realize why they chose to take a different path from there. This is easier said than done.

It seems more like a ‘win’ if you can convince the other person that you are right and they are wrong. In reality, this seldom happens, especially if one person does not come to the argument with a large amount of authority in the topic being argued. Ultimately, the goal should be to understand the other person a bit more deeply, as well as to flush out your own thinking. Sometimes arguments give me a chance to see if I can actually articulate the points that I hold dearly to. Sometimes they crumble, at which the point should be to take a learning role in the conversation.

If the goal is changed to understanding the person, and how they came to their conclusion, inconsistencies in their line of thinking will fall out naturally, and in a kinder manner. In fact, I often find that if someone argues in this manner with me, I usually find out myself that I am wrong, and I am much more likely to listen to their line of thinking than if they told me I was wrong explicitly. Asking questions surrounding the other persons argument, rather than making statements is a good way to do this.

“Really? Where did you learn that?” rather than “That’s grossly untrue.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, about arguing the Person, rather than the topic.

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4 Responses to Arguing: Whats the point? (part 1 of 3)

  1. Erin says:

    Do you think ‘debating’ means the same thing? I feel it has fewer negative connotations than ‘arguing.’

  2. pri says:

    In a legal context, arguing isn’t always negative…think of resorting to oral arguments in a case.

    Also, I’m sure you’ve heard the classic “lets agree to disagree” tactic to end arguments in a neutral manner. It attempts to diminish the power struggle in an argument.

  3. Erin says:

    is it time for part 2 yet?

  4. Craig says:

    I think ‘debating’ is an excellent term. I was searching for a more positive word for ‘arguing’. I’m going to aim to refer to such conversations as ‘debates’ as I think it diffuses intense feelings that can get in the way.–>

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