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How to Win (Almost) Every Internet Argument

June 25, 2018

I admit it’s a guilty pleasure. I enjoy political discussions on the internet. And, I detest the echo chamber. I would much rather debate someone with whom I disagree than talk to people who share my opinions.

You’d think I get a ton of abuse. Or, maybe you assume that I’m the one dealing out the hurt?

Neither is true.

The fact is it’s not difficult to have interesting, engaging and polite discussions on the internet. There are a few rules you have to follow.

1: Always assume your opponent is intelligent but uninformed

My college writing professor suggested this the very first day of class. She was talking about how to approach technical writing, and referenced a reader rather than an opponent. The concept is the same.

Despite the impossibility of it, I think we all consider ourselves above average. And like me, you’ve probably come to your opinions through a combination of study and experience. Therefore, if someone disagrees with you, it must because they aren’t as smart as you are. If they were, they’d agree with you.

Your opponent thinks the same thing. It’s what makes political discussions so fun. Attempt to educate, not to argue. And of course, be willing to learn as well as teach.

2: Realize that your opponent is neither crazy nor stupid

But, why do those people who disagree with me not see my point? I’ve explained it 4 times. They must not want to see it.

There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, that keeps people from seeing points that disagree with their world view, but it’s not about how smart someone is. And while your explanation makes perfect sense to you. Just because they calmly let you explain it doesn’t mean that they are going to agree.

The internet is an interesting medium. It forces us all to be writers, but it also lets people (generally those other people) to go on and on and on and on. It’s as if they think if they explain their misguided concept enough, I’ll suddenly change my mind.

3: Acknowledge your opponent’s points

The difference between a discussion and an argument is that in a discussion, you get to acknowledge one another’s points. Arguments are simply attempting to outshout the other guy.

To have a discussion, you have to be willing to acknowledge points. That might seem hard to do. After all, his guy is terrible. Everyone knows it. And actually any positive news is probably because my guy was in that job before him and did amazing things and now the new clown gets to claim the credit!

The fact is that no one is all bad. No one is all good. Our politicians are flawed people, just as we are flawed. It actually doesn’t hurt me at all to acknowledge that the other guy did something good. In fact, it strengthens my point.

If I am willing to acknowledge the good things the other guy does, then when I object to something it gives my argument more credence. If I’m willing to give credit, then if I am not giving credit, it’s more likely I have a legitimate concern.

4: Remember that you’re talking to a person. . .just as your opponent is

At the end of the day, unless you are one of the politicians making policy, we are all just blowing off steam with our online arguments.

My best friend in high school was a guy named Kevin. Kevin and I were both interested in politics. But, we disagreed on nearly everything. We supported opposite sides of the aisle. And we’d go at it for hours. Convinced of our rightness as only high school kids could be.

But, here’s a funny thing, at one point one of us would say, “Hey, I’m hungry. Wanna go get some food?”

“Sure, and then let’s go play 8 holes of golf before it gets too dark.”

See, Kevin and I were friends first. We didn’t let political discussions derail our friendship. We are still friends today, 35 years later. And we still disagree on everything political. We don’t get a chance to discuss politics too much anymore.

And the person that you are debating with is a person just like you. They have a favorite movie. They are planning a great vacation. They just bought a boat. They are worried about their kids. Their lives are not defined by their political positions. Don’t let yours be.

I titled this post “How to win an argument.” You might be waiting for the payoff. When am I going to explain how to convince your opponent to switch to your position?

I’m not. The point is that we “win” when we can freely exchange ideas. Maybe learn something about a topic and a person we disagree with. And if not a new friend, at least leave the discussion being better for having engaged in it. That’s how you win an argument on the interent.

Oh, yeah, one more thing before I go. Kevin I would play 8 holes because he lived a half block from the golf course. We’d walk on and play the first 8 holes, but we’d skip the 9th hole because it was right next to the clubhouse and if we played that hole, the course manager would catch us golfing from free.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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