This three-part post will cover six rules of argument that should be important to any knowledge worker, executive, leader, manager, or critical thinker.
Rule #5: You are not your argument.
Remember that while you may be passionate about your argument, you are not your argument. This might best be supported by Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, when he discusses how difficult this is, yet how essential it is to continued growth. The example he cites is biblical. Rohn cites this about Jesus: “Jesus could say, ‘I love you but I hate your sinful ways.'”
Now, how it is possible to love and hate in the same sentence? If you hate a person’s actions, do you have to hate the person? Or is it possible to love a person (for instance, your mother, father, brother, sister, grandfather, grandmother, significant other) but hate what he does to himself? An example suggesting the viability of the love/hate relationship can be found in the granddaughter’s love for her alcoholic grandfather. She loves her grandfather. But she cannot stand what he’s doing to himself. In fact, she hates it! Still, she has learned to distinguish the two. She loves him, but she hates his sinful ways. Such separation is a sign of emotional and intellectual maturity. Some critical thinkers would argue that the ability to separate or delineate the two is essential.
Consider examining another scenario. The trial attorney may argue many cases over the course of a year. In each case, he may present his opening argument. If he were his argument, then we should diagnose him with schizophrenia or multiple-personality disorder because he has become the following: “George Pearson should not have to pay this increase in child support,” “Martha Bivins was not legally sane when she killed her husband,” “Ms. Jodstone did, in fact, violate the contract,” “Robert Ash is entitled to this insurance settlement,” etc. See, in certain arenas, this ability to delineate or separate a person and his argument is developed and honed. For this writer, the arena consisted of three classes: Philosophy of Law, Business Law, and Constitutional Law II. In Constitutional Law II, I was asked to argue for “Brown v. Board of Education.” After doing so for approximately five minutes, I was given ten seconds to collect my thoughts, and then I was asked to argue against “Brown v. Board of Education.”
There are many things to learn from such an exercise. First, when studying both sides of a case, we are often able to see the motivations for people’s arguments. We also become familiar with the facts, and we become familiar with the opposition’s claims. Second (and something “critical thinkers” may wish to examine), being expected to argue both sides of an argument convincingly and passionately helps absolve a person of the emotional connection he may have at one time thought necessary when constructing an argument. Notice, the passion can still be present, for passion can be created simply from a desire to win or to emerge victorious. And hence, hopefully you can still find the passion to argue, even if you do not agree with the claim you’re attempting to advance. But know this: you are not your argument. Just as a person can delineate love and hate, just as an attorney can delineate his many arguments, and just as a student of law can delineate both sides of an argument, you must separate yourself from your argument.
Rule #6: Listen with the intention of listening, not with the intention of offering your retort.
One way people telegraph their intention to offer a retort as opposed to genuinely listen is when they interrupt. Such people are so excited about what they have to say that what you are saying is no longer important and, frankly, it’s probably not being heard. Of course, some would argue that they do listen, but they simply have a terrible habit of interrupting. In that case, note this: those who interrupt are often perceived as pushy, rude, disrespectful, overbearing, and egotistical; they are also often perceived as bad listeners. Thus, if you are guilty of interrupting, even if you do not think you are guilty of the aforementioned “charges,” realize that this is often the perception of such people. If you want to dodge this perception and escape this stigma, exhibit the patience required to listen. And if you’re on the receiving end of a “pauser,” a person who pauses often while speaking, then simply ask the question: “Are you finished?” If the person is not, he’ll tell you. Of course, if he is, then the soapbox is yours.