“The man who can hold forth on every matter under debate in two contradictory ways of pleading, or can argue for and against every proposition that can be laid down – such a man is the true, the complete, and the only orator.”
“If you can’t imagine how anyone could hold the view you are attacking, you just don’t understand it yet.”
– Anthony Weston, ‘Rulebook for Arguments’
Explaining the Other Side of the Argument
Entrepreneur and blogger Ben Casnocha presents an effective discussion / debating / interviewing technique:
Here is one of the simplest ways to test someone’s knowledge of an issue: ask them to explain the other side of the argument. Ask the person who’s in favor of spending more money on marketing project X to explain the thinking process behind those who oppose the budgetary move.
I have yet to find a more efficient and reliable way to probe the depths of a person’s knowledge and seriousness about an issue than asking them to explain the other side’s perspective.
How can you effectively argue for your side if you don’t understand the arguments of the other?
Never Limit Your Ability to Learn From Opposite Perspectives
Habitually, we discard contrasting opinions without making an effort to explore their significance. We shape our attitudes and seek facts to support our own beliefs without contemplating the merits of opposite perspectives. We fail to realize that, when we do not understand opposite perspectives enough to justify their merits, we almost certainly do not understand them enough to dismiss them either.
Develop the curiosity to see the world from new perspectives and discover opposite circumstances, whether you believe in them or not. If you follow faith X, attend services of faith Y; if you are conservative, explain the liberal outlook; if you hold the western philosophy on a particular subject, reason the eastern viewpoint; if you oppose a particular legislation, argue the merits of legislation. Instead of asking ‘ why ,’ ask ‘why not .’
When you pause arguing with an opposite perspective and try arguing for it, when you switch your point of view briefly, you will witness a profound shift in your thinking.
- Your own attitudes may look different when seen from the opposite perspective. It can help you reinforce your own beliefs and attitudes. This approach may open your mind to discover the merits, similarities, and weaknesses of your arguments that may not be obvious from your own side of the board.
- People are often glad to work with anyone who is accommodating and tries to understand their perspectives. Therefore, your ability to persuade others improves.