Positive and Negative Arguments
by Luke Nix
I briefly touched this topic in my post “Is Consistency Important?“. Today, I want to expand it a bit more. A Positive Argument is an argument for your particular position. A Negative Argument is an argument against an opposing position.
It seems like everywhere I go, people want to point out what’s wrong with the opposition’s arguments. It does not matter if we are talking about political views, religious views, or any other view that is tied to a deep conviction. So many people focus so tightly on the opposition that they forget about their own point of view. This is not a very good strategy. The reason I say this is for one simple reason. Let’s say you have a plan to accomplish something, and one of your teammates expresses great dissatisfaction with your plan and even provides every reason in the world not to use it. It would come natural to you to ask if your teammate had a better plan. If no other plan was proposed, then the team would have to stick with the original, no matter how many flaws it had.
I must point out that I am not about to defend a reason for only using positive arguments. The fact is that the negative arguments have their important place. They are used to convince your opposition that their idea is not as solid as they might believe. Depending on the person, and depending on how many holes are poked in the opposing idea, the person may be open to an alternative idea- yours, but only if you can show why it is superior to the original and does not suffer from the same problems (or create new ones) that the opposing idea had.
Of course, making negative arguments should never be abused. A person can only take so much negative information about their point of view before they start to believe you are not just attacking their point of view, but attacking them. Even though you may not intentionally make a personal attack, it may be perceived as one. You can recognize when they are starting to think this by their body language, before they say anything that would indicate it. If you don’t notice this and continue with your negative argument, the person may “tune” you out and not “hear” anything else you have to say (this includes your positive argument). If you do notice the “offended” body language, ask them to provide a positive argument for their view. By doing that, you reinforce that you respect their view, and open doors to provide a positive argument for your point of view later in the conversation…
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