4 Tips for Having a Productive Argument

I wrote a post about a week ago about arguing and why I think it's important. In this post I want to expand on it a little bit. Now that we know that it's important, we need to know what to do when arguments happen.

What’s the first thing you do when someone disagrees with you? One thing some people do is immediately start firing off reasons why the other person is wrong. They do this because they are afraid of being challenged. They don’t want to be thought of as being wrong. The problem with this is that before shooting off into their argument they never think about whether or not they are actually right. They put being viewed as being right ahead of actually being right. This is typically my problem... And by “typically” I mean “always.”

But there is another route that people often take. This one is to completely avoid the conflict. These people really like to “agree to disagree.” Or they like to stretch their view to make it sound like they all really do agree, even when they don’t. The problem with this is that no one is ever challenged to think. Everyone stays where they are, even if someone happens to be wrong. If you are one of these people, please take a look at my previous post on arguing. It talks about why it is important to challenge and be challenged.

Overpowering and disengaging are both extremes that need to be avoided. What we need to do is engage in the argument, but in a way that makes the experience a productive one.

Here are my 4 tips for having a productive argument.

1. Don't let anyone get angry.

This one comes from Greg Koukl's book, Tactics. He wrote that "If anyone in the discussion gets angry, you lose." (pg. 30) The point of an argument is to discover truth. If someone gets angry they are not in a very good position to do that. Their only desire at that point is to win the argument. The argument ceases to be beneficial. It's a waste of time if someone is angry.

I do understand that making the other person angry will be unavoidable at times. But as Koukl also wrote in his book, "Just make sure it's your ideas that offend and not you, that your beliefs cause the dispute and not your behavior." (pg. 31)

2. Ask questions.

One of the reasons we have a hard time when arguing is that we misunderstand each other too often. If you ask questions throughout the conversation, you are more likely to have a more complete understanding of what they are saying and, in the end, will be better able to address the problem. One question to ask often is, "What do you mean by that?". Before launching into your counter-argument, you need to be sure you understand their point.

3. Always be asking yourself, "What is the truth?"

Your goal in an argument should not be to win. The goal should be for you and the other person to, in the end, have a better understanding of reality. So when the other person gives their argument, your first thought should be "Is this true? And if not, why?", rather than "Why is this wrong?". This is very important when it comes to marriages. When you and your spouse have an argument, you should not be asking yourself "Why are they wrong?", but rather, "What is the solution to this problem?".

4. "Master the pause."

A few weeks ago a very high up sales rep in our company took my wife and me out to dinner. I won't go into all of the details of what our company does, but basically, we sell knives. Cutco Cutlery to be precise. And this guy has personally sold over two million dollars worth of knives. He's pretty good. During our conversation he brought up a really good piece of advice that has helped him to become the fantastic salesman that he is. He called it "mastering the pause." He said that when a customer asks him a question or gives an objection to a point he has made, he waits at least two seconds after they stop before he responds. First off, this keeps him from interrupting the person before they are completely finished and it also gives him a chance to figure out the best way to respond. Rather than jumping right into an answer, he formulates what he wants to say before saying it... Don't just say the first thing that comes to mind. "Master the pause." Or as my dad always told us, "Think before you speak."

I wouldn't say that this list is exhaustive, but if you implement these things it will be a nice start to making your arguments a much less painful experience.

  What are some tips that you would give for having more productive arguments?


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