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Opinion Editorials

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

DNA ancestry tests are cool, but are they worth giving up your rights?

(EDITORIAL) DNA tests are all the rage currently but are they worth potentially having your genetic makeup sold and distributed?

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dna ancestry tests

By now you’ve heard – the Golden State Killer’s 40+ year reign of terror is potentially over as the FBI agents used an ancestry website DNA sample to arrest their suspect, James DeAngelo, Jr.

Over the last few years, DNA testing has gone mainstream for novelty reasons. Companies like Ancestry.com and 23andMe have offered easy access to the insights of your genetics, including potential health risks and family heritage, and even reconnect family members, through simple genetic tests.

However, as a famously ageless actor once suggested in a dinosaur movie, don’t focus too much on if you can do this, without asking if you should do this.

When you look closely, you can find several reasons to wonder if sending your DNA to these companies is a wise choice.

These reasons mostly come down to privacy protection, and while most companies do have privacy policies in place, you will find some surprising loopholes in the fine print. For one, most of the big players don’t give you the option to not have your data sold.

These companies, like 23andMe and Ancestry.com, can always sell your data so long as your data is “anonymized,” thanks to the HIPAA Act of 1996. Anonymization involves separating key identifying features about a person from their medical or biological data.

These companies know that loophole well; Ancestry.com, for example, won’t even give customers an opt-out of having their DNA data sold.

Aside from how disconcerting it is that these companies will exploit this loophole for their gain at your expense, it’s also worth noting that standards for anonymizing data don’t work all that well.

In one incident, reportedly, “one MIT scientists was able to ID the people behind five supposedly anonymous genetic samples randomly selected from a public research database. It took him less than a day.”

There’s also the issue of the places where that data goes when it goes out. That report the MIT story comes from noted that 23andMe has sold data to at least 14 outside pharmaceutical firms.

Additionally, Ancestry.com has a formal data-sharing agreement with a biotech firm. That’s not good for you as the consumer, because you may not know how that firm will handle the data.

Some companies give data away to the public databases for free, but as we saw from the earlier example, those can be easy targets if you wanted to reverse engineer the data back to the person.

It would appear the only safe course of action is to have this data destroyed once your results are in. However, according to US federal regulation for laboratory compliance stipulates that US labs hold raw information for a minimum of 10 years before destruction.

Now, consider all that privacy concern in the context of what happens when your DNA data is compromised. For one, this kind of privacy breach is irreversible.

It’s not as simple as resetting all your passwords or freezing your credit.

If hackers don’t get it, the government certainly can; there’s even an instance of authorities successfully obtaining a warrant for DNA evidence from Ancestry.com in a murder trial.

Even if you’re not the criminal type who would worry about such a thing, the precedent is concerning.

Finally, if these companies are already selling data to entities in the biomedical field, how long until medical and life insurance providers get their hands on it?

I’ll be the first to admit that the slippery slope fallacy is strong here, but there are a few troubling patterns of behavior and incorrect assumptions already in play regarding the handling of your DNA evidence.

The best course of action is to take extra precaution.

Read the fine print carefully, especially what’s in between the lines. As less scrupulous companies look to cash in on the trend, be aware of entities who skimp on privacy details; DNA Explained chronicles a lot of questionable experiences with other testing companies.

Above all, really think about what you’re comfortable with before you send in those cheek swabs or tubes of spit. While the commercials make this look fun, it is a serious choice and should be treated like one.

This story was first published, October 2017.

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Opinion Editorials

Do women that downplay their gender get ahead faster?

(OPINION) A new study about gender in the workplace is being perceived differently than we are viewing it – let’s discuss.

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flexible workforce

The Harvard Business Review reports that women benefit professionally when they downplay their gender, as opposed to trying to focus on their “differences” as professional strength.

The article includes a lot of interesting concepts underneath its click-bait-y title. According to the study by Professors Ashley Martin and Katherine Phillips, women felt increasingly confident when they pivoted from focusing on highlighting potential differences in their perceived abilities based on their gender and instead gave their attention to cultivating qualities that are traditionally coded as male*.

Does this really mean that women need to “downplay” their gender? Does it really mean women who attempt this get ahead in this world faster?

I don’t think so.

The article seems to imply that “celebrating diversity” in workers is akin to giving femme-identified employees a hot pink briefcase – it actually calls attention to stereotyped behaviors. I would argue that this is not the case (and, for the record, rock a hot pink briefcase if you want to, that sounds pretty badass).

I believe that we should instead highlight the fact that this study shows the benefits that come when everyone expands preconceived notions of gender.

Dr. Martin and her interviewer touch on this when they discuss the difference between gender “awareness” and “blindness.” As Dr. Martin explains, “Gender blindness doesn’t mean that women should act more like men; it diminishes the idea that certain qualities are associated with men and women.”

It is the paradox of studies like this one that, in order to interrogate how noxious gendered beliefs are, researchers must create categories to place otherwise gender-neutral qualities and actions in, thus emphasizing the sort of stereotypes being investigated. Regardless, there is a silver lining here as said by Dr. Martin herself:

“[People] are not naturally better suited to different roles, and [people] aren’t better or worse at certain things.”

Regardless of a worker’s gender identity, they are capable of excelling at whatever their skills and talent help them to.

*Though the HBR article and study perpetuate a binary gender structure, for the purposes of our discussion in this article, I expand its “diversity” to include femme-identified individuals, nonbinary and trans workers, and anybody else that does not benefit from traditional notions of power that place cisgendered men at the top of the social totem pole.

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Opinion Editorials

Dispelling the myth that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask

(EDITORIAL) It has been accepted as fact that women don’t get raises because they don’t ask as often as men, but new studies indicate that’s not true at all.

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women female negotiations

Many of the seemingly universal “truths” of business often come down to assumptions made about workers based on their gender.

Among the most oft-repeated of these “truths” is that women and other femme-identifying people are bad at self-advocating, particularly in matters involving compensation.

These include: Women don’t negotiate their salaries. Women don’t get promotions or leadership positions because they don’t “lean in.” Women don’t ask for raises.

This last truth is finally being discussed as the myth it is.

Over at The Cut, Otegha Uwagba discusses her own experience successfully and not-so-successfully negotiating a raise, but more interestingly how increasingly research has shown that there is no “gap” in between the genders when it comes to asking. Rather, the disparity really arises when it comes to which ask is heard.

As Uwagba explains, “While men and women ask for pay raises at broadly similar rates, women are more likely to be refused or suffer blowback for daring to broach the topic.”

This blowback comes from the inability of some people in leadership positions to think critically about the ways in which business still actively dismisses women’s leadership qualities while simultaneously praising less-competent men who demonstrate these very characteristics.

The HBR article acts as good reminder that the cumulative effect of all of these misguided “facts” about women and business often perpetuate the toxic culture that creates and circulates them.

The implication of all of these myths creates a sense that women are the ones responsible for the unequal treatment they often receive. When the message that women receive is that the reason they don’t get a raise is that they didn’t ask—even when they DO—that tells them that their lived experience isn’t as valid as the pervasive “truth.”

This is, simply put, gaslighting.

Even more, telling women that women face challenges because they didn’t do something or know something, rather than the addressing the very real fact that professional women face sexism at almost every step of their career does not help them.

It only helps those already in positions of power blame women for their own archaic beliefs and actions.

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