5 Powerful Principles to Challenge Arguments

Type: Principles
Sources: Scott Berkun: How to Detect Bullshit; and my all-time-favourite checklist: 12 Tough Questions by Tom Gilb.



Gist

to provide a general checklist for the suspicious. The 5 principles show behavioural patters people use to make you do things in their favour, but not necessarily in your favour. Use this on (in alphabetical order) advisors, colleagues, consultants, counsels, managers, salespersons, vendors.

Summary of Principles

  1. People are uncertain and tend to ignorantly stretch the facts.
  2. People with weak arguments often have not made their homework on the topic.
  3. People tend towards urgency when you are asked to make a decision with some hidden consequence.
  4. People without a clear understanding of their point of view tend to inflate the language used.
  5. People tend to have stronger arguments if they know someone is present who is hard to deceive.

Principles and Notes

P1) People are uncertain and tend to ignorantly stretch the facts.

  • How do you know?
  • What are your sources? How can I check them?
  • Who told you that?
  • Can you quantify the improvement?

Note: Carefully watch the answerer. If he needs a while, maybe uncomfortably shifting position, there's a good chance he's either making something up or needs time to figure out how to disguise a weak argument.

P2) People with weak arguments often have not done their homework on the topic.

  • What is the counter argument?
  • Who else shares this point of view?
  • What are the risks of this, and what will you do about it?
  • Can you quantify the improvement?
  • How does your idea affect my goals and my budgets?
  • What would make you change your mind?
  • Have we got a complete solution?

Note: As with any set of facts, one can draw many reasonable interpretations, not just one. Everyone with intimate knowledge of a topic will find it easy to argue from a different point of view for a while.

P3) People tend towards urgency when you are asked to make a decision with some hidden consequence.

  • Can I sleep on this?
  • When do we need to have a decision made? Why?
  • I'd like to consult Person A first.
  • Expert B, what do you think?

Note: People pressing ahead may try to throw you off your guard.

P4) People without a clear understanding of their point of view tend to inflate the language used.

  • Please break this in smaller pieces, so I can understand.
  • Explain this in simpler terms, please.
  • I refuse to accept this until I, or someone I trust, fully understands it.
  • Are you trying to say <…>? Then speak more plainly next time, please.

Note: Mark Twain once wrote in a letter to a friend: 'I'm sorry this letter is so long; I didn't have enough time to make it shorter.'

P5) People tend to have stronger arguments if they know that someone who is hard to deceive is present.

  • Use your network.
  • Invite colleagues who have worked with these people.

Note: Simply help each other, like your family would do.

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