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Learn to Argue Productively

Ask Questions And Listen

When you're having an argument, there are two different views involved, and maybe two different realities. Instead of making it a black and white, right or wrong argument, try to ask genuine questions to help you understand what the other person is thinking.

Calm down, create mental space, and have a pleasant and relaxing disagreement, after you take the time to listen to the other person's point of view, instead of reacting impulsively or angrily.


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Learn to Argue Productively

Learn to Argue Productively


Key Ideas

The Realms Of An Argument

There are three different realms of an argument:

  • Head-based arguments are about the truth, based on facts and verifiable information.
  • Heart-based arguments are about meaning, personal taste and moral values.
  • Hand-based arguments are about usefulness and practicality.

Being able to distinguish between the three realms, and categorizing your argument stand can help you find common ground and end the argument in a productive way.

Cognitive Dissonance

Pay close attention to what ‘spikes’ up your emotions, those triggers that are felt when someone challenges you, or provides you with information that is new to you or does not align with your reality. 

This cognitive dissonance (the state of holding two or more contradictory beliefs) may be your chance to update your expectations, instead of making the world fit in them.

Ask Questions And Listen

When you're having an argument, there are two different views involved, and maybe two different realities. Instead of making it a black and white, right or wrong argument, try to ask genuine questions to help you understand what the other person is thinking.

Calm down, create mental space, and have a pleasant and relaxing disagreement, after you take the time to listen to the other person's point of view, instead of reacting impulsively or angrily.

Summarize What You Understand

Other people may have blind spots and one way to make them understand what you understand is to say to them, ‘So, As I understand, what you are saying is essentially this’ and summarize their position to them.

If your argument hasn’t yet gone in the irrational territory, this will work to have clarity regarding the core matter.

After The Fire

You cannot win a persistent argument while being in that fight due to heightened emotions and a high chance of stepping in a verbal minefield. Better to discuss it later when you are in a different setting, like a dinner date, talking in a relaxed manner so as to not start any new argument.

Having productive arguments is hard, but it is always good to keep trying.


Disagreement Is The New Reality

The ability to have productive disagreements is a superpower.

But disagreement or an argument usually has toxicity associated with it, with judgment, self-protection and a sense of con...

Aligning the Argument

In a disagreement, often certain crucial information isn't available or isn't clearly understood by either person. We need to ask ourselves if:

  • The argument is about something that can be verified.
  • If it matters to you (meaningful).
  • If it is useful.
Then we need to make sure that the other person aligns and comes on the same page.
    Anxiety Spikes

    Anxiety spikes happen when something triggers us during an argument, usually when what that we care about feels threatened.

    We need to be aware of these spikes to guide us into the emotional aspect of the argument, rather than only focusing on information.

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    Disagreement is healthy

    It is essential for success. It’s the hallmark of an engaged and involved team member. And it opens the way for testing and improving new ideas.

    It should also be treated as a chance t...

    The art of disagreement

    Mastering the art of considerate disagreement means expressing your beliefs without shutting down the discussion or angering the other side.

    For this to happen, you have to listen more, be willing to change your perspective on disagreement and learn to better your arguments.

    Ed Catmull
    Ed Catmull
    “You are not your idea, and if you identify too closely with your ideas, you will take offense when they are challenged.”

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    Constructive engagement
    Constructive engagement

    Constructive engagement involves cultivating goodwill between the parties involved.

    Fishbowl discussions

    This exercise involves members of one party sitting in a circle with the other group sitting around them. The outside group listens quietly while the inside group answers a set of questions.

    After each side answered and listened, the moderator brings them together for conversations about what everyone learned. Data suggests that despite strong views, participants change their attitude toward one another for the better.


    We regularly find ourselves engaging with people whose core beliefs and values differ from our own. We might want to convince them to adopt our point of view, but this can lead to unproductive conflict.

    However, people who disagree passionately can be easily trained to have productive interactions.

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    Straw man arguments

    A straw man argument is a misrepresentation of an opinion or viewpoint, designed to be as easy as possible to contradict.

    The only purpose is for it to be easy to expose. I...

    Hollow man arguments

    This is a weak case (similar to the Straw man arguments) attributed to a non-existent group: Someone will fabricate a viewpoint that is easy to contradict, then claim it was made by a group they disagree with. Arguing against an opponent which doesn’t exist is a pretty easy way to win any debate.

    People who use hollow man arguments will often use vague, non-specific language without explicitly giving any sources or stating who their opponent is.

    Iron man argument

    It is designed to be resistant to attacks by a defier.There arguments are difficult to avoid because they have a lot of overlap with legitimate debate techniques.

    A person using an iron man argument will most likely make their own viewpoint so vague that nothing anyone says about it can weaken it. They’ll use jargon and imprecise terms. This means they can claim anyone who disagrees didn’t understand them, or they’ll rephrase their argument multiple times.

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    Seek to understand

    People tend to disagree when they don't understand each other. That does not mean you have to agree, just that you're open to hearing them out.

    When you come to an understanding t...

    Look beyond your own triggers

    Whatever may have happened in your past, you have to find a way to get past your triggers and see that you're in a new situation with a person who doesn't mean you harm. What's triggered is usually fear and awareness of one's limitations.

    Look for similarities, not differences

    Look for common ground. When you concentrate on differences the space grows wider, but when you seek out what you have in common it helps bridge the gap.

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    Persuasion through storytelling

    Stories are a very integral part of being persuasive. 

    Stories trump data when it comes to persuasion because stories are easier to understand and relate to.

    What makes a story engaging
    • Suspense and “cliffhangers” allow you to create an addictive narrative;
    • Creating detailed imagery;
    • Using literary techniques for turning simple stories into memorable works of art.
    • Change made easier by providing an example.
    Characteristics of persuasive stories
    • Delivery: matters as much as the content.
    • Imagery:  the brain “lights up” in reacting to imagery, truly transporting the reader to the events being described. 
    • Realism: poeple need a “human” element in the story that is easy for them to imagine.
    • Structure: people prefer stories that follow a logical manner.
    • Context: significant impact on the persuasiveness of a story.
    • Audience: determine who you don’t want reading your content along with who you do.
    Identities and core beliefs

    We build our lives around certain core beliefs. And discussing them will most likely yield anger and indignation (i.e discussing religion or politics).

    We usually fail to adjust to the...

    Do the work required

    Rather than be opinionated, we should strive to be informed.

    We should know the other side’s argument better than they know theirs. Instead of attacking a straw man, aim to knock down the strongest version of an argument you disagree with.

    Charlie Munger
    Charlie Munger

    “I never allow myself to have an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”

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    Win the black belt in political argument
    • People think emotionally, so forget facts
    • When people are asked to explain their beliefs about how a given thing works, they’ll actually become less confident...
    Interpersonal Issues

    When it happens in the workplace, it can reduce productivity and make a dent in morale. 

    It takes on the shape that one person, or a group of people, frustrates or hampers another person...

    Types of Interpersonal Conflict
    • Policy Conflicts: disagreements about how to deal with a situation that affects both parties. 
    • Value Conflicts: they are typically pretty difficult to resolve because they are more ingrained.
    • Ego Conflicts: losing an argument, or being thought of as wrong, can actually damage a person’s self-esteem. This is like a power struggle.
    What Causes Interpersonal Conflict
    • Frustration and stress
    • Misunderstandings
    • Lack of planning
    • Bad staff selection
    • Poor Communication

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    Make small talk

    You communicate a genuine interest when you inquire or listen to the small details that make up your partner’s day. It’s those insignificant moments that make up the reality of our lives.

    Shared experiences
    We feel closer to others when we can talk about the experiences we have in common. 

    Words are not necessary for shared feelings to improve a relationship. Just doing something at the same time—riding bikes, watching a movie, or eating dessert, intensifies both pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

    Listen carefully
    Knowing that you are being heard is one of the experiences most likely to cement a feeling of connection to another. 

    Use a technique called “active listening” - a form of listening in which you acknowledge that you understand what is being said. 

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