Every so often you will be on an internet forum, sitting around the dinner table, or at a cocktail party, and someone else will utter an observation or an opinion which will be so completely misguided and wrong that it will make you want to smash your head against the table and weep for the future of humanity.
You might be tempted to call them a ridiculous and ill-informed idiot, but wait! If you resort to name calling and personal attacks, you will be perceived as a complete jerk no matter if people are swayed by your counter argument or not. There is another way that you can express your disagreement while holding onto your dignity and respect.
Here are some tips for arguing fairly:
Discuss the Point and Not the Speaker
Although it might feel good in a childish way, calling your opponent names is not the way to engage in an intelligent debate. Separate what the person is saying from who is saying it, and discuss the point that they are making.
Don’t try to say something like, “Well, you would say that because you are ______” or “You don’t know anything about that because you are __________”.
Think about how frustrating it would be if someone tried to discredit the point you were making by making personal comments about you!
Acknowledge What They Get Right
Listen carefully to what your debate partner is saying, and don’t forget to acknowledge the parts which do have a bit of truth to them. They could have the right facts, but might be just interpreting them in a way which doesn’t make sense.
When you say things like, “I see what you are saying about X, and I agree. However, I don’t agree with the conclusion you are making,” it shows people that you are taking their argument seriously and listening to them.
State Your Opinion and Evidence
When it’s your turn to say your piece, state your opinion clearly and succinctly. Explain what it is that you think, and provide concrete examples which support what you are trying to say.
You can even site common criticisms of your position, and explain why you think they are irrelevant or why you disagree. Say what you want to say in a straight forward and confident manner, without attacking, accusing, or blaming.
In the end, the saying “You can’t change a stubborn mind” might apply to your opponent and they may leave the situation still holding their view. However, if you have expressed yourself confidently, clearly, and respectfully you can be proud of yourself for standing up for what you believe in.