How to have better arguments

Democracy is hard; demagoguery is easy. –Patricia Roberts-Miller

We don’t need fewer arguments; we need better arguments.

****the following is adapted from “Greater Good” and the Better Arguments Project****

Were living in an era of deep divisions. Cable television, social media feeds, and fraying personal relationships all reflect the same troubling pattern: Differences of opinion quickly escalate into attacks, mistrust, and civic stalemates.

However, argument has the potential to help bridge ideological divides.

Here are five principles for more constructive and respectful disagreements.

1. Pay attention to context

We may be suffering from a general sense of division, but a Better Argument event must begin in the needs, culture, and context of a specific community.

2. Take winning off the table

Many public arguments surface in contexts where a lot is at stake: persuading the city council to approve or reject a new housing development, or debating a new school districting plan. A Better Argument, however, is not about winning or losing, defeating or converting the “other side.” It’s about presence, and the robust exchange of ideas. Whatever the issue, setting those boundaries fosters a more open and honest discussion.

3. Prioritize relationships and listen passionately

An argument becomes “better” when we start the conversation with human connection and prepare to listen, not just advance our own points of view. Be human first. This means inviting people to share their identities and their stories, not just their opinions.

4. Embrace vulnerability

Better Arguments are hard work, and there is inherent risk in showing up. A successful Better Argument depends on participants’ willingness to be open, honest, and vulnerable, as both speakers and listeners.

5. Be open to transformation

Without a goal of winning or even reaching resolution, the experience of a Better Argument can instead change how we engage with a difficult issue and with one another.

A Better Agument should result in the simple but powerful prompt:

“I came in thinking ________; I’m leaving thinking _______.”


For more depth and context, read:

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