This three-part post will cover six rules of argument that should be important to any knowledge worker, executive, leader, manager, or critical thinker.

     argument = a discussion (an argument is not a quarrel)

     thinking critically = this does not mean thinking negatively. Critical thinking can be completely positive, completely negative, or, more likely, an amalgamation of both.

Rule #1: If you ask a question and do not get the answer you desired, ask the same question differently.

This strategy can be found when people take polls. For instance, a pollster might compose the following question: “Do you support programs that provide money to people living below the defined poverty level?” Now, if the percentage of people answering “yes” were 79%, and if the pollster needed a much lower number to satisfy his organization’s needs, he might ask the same question differently. For instance, he might write: “Do you support welfare programs?” Since the question is essentially the same—and it is just being asked differently—perhaps the percentage should still be the same. Unfortunately, words have an awful tendency to frame perceptions and, hence, that might explain why when this question was asked after the initial question, a much lower percentage of people answered “yes.” By asking the same question differently, the pollster was able to elicit a different answer.

This strategy is also evidenced in sales. Essentially, whether the salesperson is selling houses, automobiles, office buildings, airplanes, or businesses, the answer he is looking for is “yes.” However, you may notice that when a salesperson asks you, “So, would you like to get this car today?” and you say “No,” the salesperson does not pack up his proverbial bags and leave. Instead, he attempts to address your objection, identify with it, and refute it. His refutation, of course, will probably end with the same question being asked differently: “So, based on that new information, would you like to drive away in this car today?” Similarly, when engaged in an argument, if you ask a question and do not get the answer you desired, ask the same question differently. Offer new information. Offer hypothetical examples. Of course, you may never get the person to change his mind. You may, however, get the person to make a new decision based on new information. And that new decision may be the answer you were looking for.

Rule #2: If you offer an assertion, you must have an example to support it.

By definition, an assertion is “a statement or declaration, often without support or reason.” Hence, if you asserted that the school systems in Europe are better than those in America, then you’d best be equipped with the requisite examples, for even though Wayne Booth suggests that “nobody’s from Missouri anymore,” we know that some people do desire evidence. Some people do desire proof. These people might be deemed “critical thinkers.” When arguing with someone who possesses such desires, the proof ought to be there. If you deem yourself a critical thinker, then do not offer an assertion unless you have an example to advance it.


For more Rules of Argument, have a look at part 2 and part 3.

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