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Six rules for effectively arguing any opposing point

Online or offline, humans are programmed to be thoughtful, but not necessarily logical. Remembering six simple rules for arguing can do wonders for discussing any topic with someone whose viewpoint opposes your own, be it a client, a coworker, or an online commenter.

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The rules for arguing

We’ve all created embarrassment for ourselves by parading our ignorance in public. Most of the time we’re convinced the problem resided in the other side’s inability to see the logic in our position. How many times have we realized the error in our logic after we’ve taken positions basically declaring gravity is a myth? This is me raising my hand in shame. Done it — many times. Merely recalling a few of ’em can make me blush a bit.

One of my OldSchool mentors tired of me arguing meritless points, so he laid down a brief set of rules.

  • Answering the other side’s question with a question isn’t allowed — ever.
  • Your answer may challenge the question’s premise, if you believe it’s false.
  • If answering, you must only address the question asked, nothing else. 
  • Label opinion as opinion, not disguised as fact. Otherwise, be as empirical as you can.
  • Never, as in never ever, get personal. You not only show the world your position is weak, you also demonstrate a lack of emotional maturity.
  • If in your judgment, the other side proves its case, smile, you learned something.
As an aside — ever notice those who’d rather argue the earth is flat than learn that we’ve known otherwise for hundreds of years?

Those rules have been a gold mine for me on a few levels. They’re especially valuable when you don’t understand the other side’s logic. I’ve learned to first assume it’s my logic at fault. As a young man, if I didn’t understand their logic, the default was, ‘they’re illogical’, which is silly on its face. Admitting I didn’t understand and asking for clarification works wonders. Duh. Solid questions will either teach you something you didn’t know, or help you undress their logic. Either way, you make progress towards a better understanding of the subject matter. Once I accepted the value of learning I might be incorrect, debating (discussing?) became the conduit to many of those ‘teaching moments’. Learning something new, especially when it simultaneously cures your own ignorance, is what fuels our growth.

A real life example of the rules in action

I was a very involved youth baseball coach when my son was growing up. One day after practice, one of the dads mentioned that Cecil Fielder, a Detroit Tiger, had just inked a huge multi-million, multi-year contract. Some of the kids, knowing this new contract would pay Fielder far more than their local hero and future first ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, were enraged. I embraced the opportunity for a teaching moment.

First, I went over the above rules, to which they agreed, even though many were rollin’ their eyes. I allowed myself the first question.

Me: “Why shouldn’t Fielder get a far higher salary than Tony?”

Them: “Cuz Tony’s batting average is literally more than 100 points higher than Fielder’s!”

Me: “If that’s so, why did the Tigers decide to give him so much more money than Tony?”

Many at this point were sensing a trap, much to their credit. You could see it on their screwed up facial expressions. After all, the owners of a MLB team must be smart, right?

Them: “Don’t know cuz it makes no sense. It’s stoopid. Why did they?!”

Me: “I don’t know for sure, but logic tells me it’s due to the fact he hits so many homers, and knocks in so many runs every year. He knocks in over 100 runs every year.

What do you think the Tigers value more, total runs scored — OR — total number of singles hit?”

Them: “But Tony’s hittin’ over .350!”

Me: “Answer the question.”

Them: “Total runs scored?” (Dripping with teenage sarcasm.)

Me: “Let me come from another direction. How do we know who wins a baseball game?”

Them: “The one with the most runs.”

Lights go on above a buncha teenage heads. What they learned was that yes, .350 hitters are worth a bunch, but those who produce what, you know, wins games? They get paid a BUNCH.

Using the rules in my industry

Using those rules is how I learned what works better in real estate as a brokerage. My initial belief, set in stone, was that those representing nothing but buyers were kings of the real estate road. Then I had The Conversation (calling it a debate would have insulted debaters everywhere).

Though agents specializing in buyer representation can and do earn impressive incomes, listing agents who also take care of buyers do much mo betta. I had to learn this from someone packin’ over a decade as a broker who also happened to own the biggest listing brokerage in town. When I learned the facts, it became painfully obvious I had come to the table clueless in real estate land. It also showed me I was unnecessarily limiting my earning potential. It’s one thing to opt in for a lower income with full knowledge.

It’s quite another to leave money on the table due to ignorance, or worse, cuz you’re somehow emotionally committed to conclusions which are fantasy based.

If I hadn’t been forced into adhering to the aforementioned rules, my emotional, opinion driven attachment to an erroneous belief would’ve remained intact. I would’ve been plowing fields guaranteed to deliver smaller harvests than other available fields.

In business this approach has saved me countless times. We all believe in what we’re convinced are axiomatic principles. We’ve also learned from time to time that some of those beliefs were proven false, by evidence about which we were ignorant.

I propose a new way forward

Finally, how many times have we allowed ourselves to ignore mountains of evidence disproving something we knew was true? How many times have we seen folks personally attack someone simply because their position has been undermined by incontrovertible, documented evidence? When we do that it, not only does it reflect poorly on us, it’s prima facie evidence that we’re outa ammo.

It’s alright to say, “I was wrong, thanks.” Or, “I didn’t realize that was the case.”

Let’s argue our various cases, but in a way allowing both sides, if at all possible, to part ways knowing the truth. Being wrong about something isn’t a big deal. Defending that wrong position in the face of empirical evidence to the contrary makes us dumber than dirt.

Let’s stop doin’ that, OK?

Jeff Brown specializes in real estate investment for retirement, has practiced real estate for over 40 years and is a veteran of over 200 tax deferred exchanges, many multi-state. Brown is a second generation broker and works daily with the third generation. With CCIM training and decades of hands on experience, Brown's expertise is highly sought after, some of which he shares on his real estate investing blog.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. JensThomason

    May 24, 2012 at 7:44 am

    Really good article, Interesting and useful, apart from this I am an engineer & yesterday I was reading an article about <a href=”https://jasonhalek.datanetgroup.com”> Jason Halek  </a> . I really feel to share with you guys. I read about him. He was only 10 years old when he started working small jobs in his community and then he started business of soft drink and now he is the successful business man. He owns several oil and gas production companies. Jason Halek is not only the successful business man but also a philanthropist. He established Halek Charities & nonprofit organization dedicated to providing assistance to various humanitarian causes. I really got inspired by him.
     

  2. gregcook01

    May 25, 2012 at 8:33 am

    Jeff, the first rule of arguing: Never argue with idiots, from a distance no one can tell the difference

  3. Ro4RealEstate

    May 26, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Very well written piece, Jeff.  I enjoyed it and will share.

  4. Frugyl

    June 4, 2012 at 8:05 am

    That’s debatable! Ha ha! 🙂

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Opinion Editorials

Study says women need to be seen as “warm” to be considered confident

(EDITORIAL) A new study reveals that despite progress, women are still successful when they fall into a stereotype. Let’s discuss.

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About 15 years ago, I took a part-time job in a mental health clinic handling bookkeeping and billing. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I attacked the job with what I felt was confidence. For the first few days, I simply felt as if I was an imposter. I kept asking questions and pushing forward, even though I didn’t make much progress. Within just a few days, I felt the hostility of the office manager.

It got progressively worse, and I couldn’t figure out what the heck I’d done to make her so confrontational with me. I thought I was pleasant and respectful of her position, and I was getting along with the other employees. When I talked to our boss, I was told that I intimidated the office manager. HUH? Me? Intimidating? I was a complete mess at the time. I could barely put together a business casual wardrobe. My emotional health was so fragile that I rarely went anywhere new. And she found me intimidating?

Researchers have been studying how people judge others. Susan Fiske, researcher out of Princeton, found that competence and warmth are two of the dimensions used to judge others. Based on that research, Laura Guillén, Margarita Mayo, and Natalia Karelaia studied the competence and warmth at a software company with 236 engineers.  Guillén and her team collected data at two separate times about these engineers and their confidence and influence within the organization.

They found that “men are seen as confident if they are seen as competent, but women are seen as confident only if they come across as both competent and warm.

Women must be seen as warm in order to capitalize on their competence and be seen as confident and influential at work; competent men are seen as confident and influential whether they are warm or not.”

We encourage women to be confident, but based on current research, it may not be enough to close the gender gap in the workplace. A woman must be seen as helpful and dedicated to others to have the same influence as a man. As a woman, it’s easy to be seen as the #bossbitch when you have to make tough decisions. Those same decisions, when made by a man might be considered just “business as normal.”

I guess the lesson is that women still have to work twice as hard as men just to be seen as equals. I know that I have to work on empathy when I’m in an office environment. That office manager isn’t the only person who has thought I’m intimidating. I’ve heard it from it others, but you know what?  As a self-employed writer, I’d rather be seen as undeterred and daunting than submissive and meek.

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Opinion Editorials

“Starting a business is easy,” said only one guy ever

(OPNION EDITORIAL) Between following rules, finding funding, and gathering research, no business succeeds without lifting a finger.

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While browsing business articles this week, I came across this one, “Top 10 Business Ideas You Can Start for Free With Barely Lifting a Finger.” These types of articles make me mad. I can’t think of many successful freelancers or entrepreneurs who don’t put in hours of blood, sweat and tears to get a business going.

The author of the article is Murray Newlands, a “VIP Contributor.” Essentially, he’s a freelancer because he also contributes to Forbes, HuffPro and others. He’s the founder of ChattyPeople.com, which is important, because it’s the first business idea he promotes in the article.

But when I pull up his other articles on Entrepreneur.com, I see others like “How to Get Famous and Make Money on YouTube,” “Win Like A Targaryen: 10 Businesses You Can Start for Free,” and “10 Ventures Young Entrepreneurs Can Start for Cheap or Free.”

I seriously cannot believe that Entrepreneur.com keeps paying for the same ideas over and over.

The business ideas that are suggested are pretty varied. One suggestion is to offer online classes. I wonder if Newlands considered how long it takes to put together a worthy curriculum and how much effort goes into marketing said course.

Then, you have to work out the bugs, because users will have problems. How do you keep someone from stealing your work? What happens when you have a dispute?

Newlands suggests that you could start a blog. It’s pretty competitive these days. The most successful bloggers are ones that really work on their blog, every day. The bloggers have a brand, offer relevant content and are ethical in how they get traffic.

Think it’s easy? Better try again.

I could go on. Every idea he puts up there is a decent idea, but if he thinks it will increase your bottom line without a lot of hard work and effort, he’s delusional.

Today’s entrepreneurs need a plan. They need to work that plan, rethink it and keep working. They have to worry about liability, marketing and keeping up with technologies.

Being an entrepreneur is rewarding, but it’s hard work. It is incredibly inappropriate and grossly negligent to encourage someone to risk everything they have and are on the premise of not lifting a finger.

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Opinion Editorials

New age stranger danger: teaching kids about AI

(OPINION EDITORIAL) The world is changing and so is technology. As tech changes so must we, in teaching kids about the dangers about AI.

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When I was younger, when my siblings and I would come home from school, we were required to nourish our minds for an hour (study, homework, read, do math practice, whatever we were feeling that day) and then we were banished from the house until dinner.

We had to go outside and create our own fun. We rode bikes to friends houses, we went “fishing” in the creek, sometimes before we left the house we’d search the couch for loose change and go to our favorite corner store and share a bag of skittles.

Our neighborhood was a safe one — it was one of those ideal 90s neighborhoods where our house was seated on the end of a cul-de-sac so there was little traffic and there were enough kids on the street to field two kickball teams.

Each parent on the street was allowed to reprimand us and there were rarely any locked doors. As a 10 year old it felt like ultimate freedom. But, with that freedom came a very important lesson in strangers and what to do if we were ever approached by one.

I’m sure stranger danger is still a thing taught by parents and schools alike but we went from don’t talk to strangers online or get in strangers’ cars to getting online to request a stranger to drive us somewhere.

With the advancement of technology has come a readiness to bring strangers in (/near / to) our homes. The most invitations coming from those personal assistants many homes can’t seem to function without.

Alexa, Google Home, Bixby or whatever assistant you may use are all essentially strangers that you are willingly bringing into your home.

Just yesterday I had a conversation with a college kid that didn’t know that the microphone on those things are always on — as such is true with the Facebook, Instagram and Facebook Messenger apps.

In a recent article from Rachel Botsman (BOTSman, hmmmm), she describes the experience her three year old had with an Alexa.

Over the course of the interactions, her daughter asks the bot a few silly questions, requests a few items to be bought, asks Alexa a few opinions, she ultimately sums up her daughter’s experience as saying, “Today, we are no longer trusting machines just to do something, but to decide what to do and when to do it. The next generation will grow up in an age where it is normal to be surrounded by autonomous agents, with or without cute names.”

I’m not a mother and I’m definitely old enough to be extremely skeptical of machines (iRobot anyone?) but the effects smart bots will undoubtedly have on future generations have me genuinely concerned. Right now it seems as harmless as asking those assistants to order more toilet paper, or to check the weather or to see which movies are screening but what will it become in the future?

A MIT experiment cited in the Botsman article 27 children, aged between three and 10, interacted with Alexa, Google Home, Julie (a chatbot) and, finally, Cozmo (a robot in the form of a toy bulldozer), which are all AI devices/ toys.

The study concluded that almost 80 per cent of the children thought that Alexa would always tell the truth.

Let me repeat that — 80 PERCENT OF THE KIDS BELIEVE THAT THE AIS, CREATED BY COMPANIES WHO WANT TO SELL PRODUCTS, WILL ALWAYS TELL THE TRUTH.

The study went on to conclude that some of the children believed they could teach the devices something useful, like how to make a paper plane, suggesting they felt a genuine, give-and-take relationship with the machines.

All of these conclusions beg the question, how can we teach kids (and some adults if we’re being honest) about security and privacy in regards to new technology? How do we teach kids about commercialism and that as innocent as they may seem, not every device was designed altruistically?

We are quickly approaching an age where the strangers we introduce our kids to aren’t the lurkers in the park with the missing dog or the candy in the van, but rather, a robot voice that can tell a joke and give you the weather and order +$70M worth of miscellaneous stuff.

So now, it’s on us. Children of our own or not, we have to start thinking about best practices when it comes to teaching children about the appropriate time to trust in a computer. If the 5 year olds with smart devices are any indicator, teaching kids to be stingy with their trust in AIs will be an uphill battle.

This story was first published here in October of 2017.

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