The Importance of the Counter Argument in Persuasion
The ability to persuade people to see or do things your way is an essential skill in business.
From finding a backer for your venture, right through to persuading middlemen and consumers to buy your product requires a well thought out and convincing argument.
But it also requires something just as crucial: the ability to see the argument against your proposition so that you’re fully prepared to counter it. You see, research has shown that when presenting both sides of an argument, you are far more likely to persuade your audience to your way of thinking than if you simply present them with your way of thinking. It suggests that you’ve considered the alternative. You’ve weighed up all the facts. You’ve arrived at the correct decision.
It’s no coincidence that politicians spend half their time telling you where the opposition went wrong before suggesting what they’re going to do. They don’t introduce policies simply to ‘make things better’ but to ‘put things right’. The implication being that the alternative was a mistake.
It’s the same with the X Factor. Simon Cowell will often announce that what he just heard was the worst ever rendition of a particular song and that the wannabe superstar has no talent whatsoever. This will be delivered against a backdrop of boos and catcalls suggesting that the audience may disagree. However, Louis Walsh will take a more pragmatic view. He’ll tell us that they were brave to choose such a difficult song. He’ll continue with some reference to them ‘giving it their all’ and may even highlight a moment where they were actually in tune. But then he’ll reflect sadly that, on balance, they’re probably not quite ready for stardom just yet. Same conclusion, but expressed in a more reasoned way. And we’ve stopped throwing things at the telly.
So when presenting any kind of proposition, remember that there’s always two sides to an argument. Work out what that other side is and be prepared to argue against it. Not in a dismissive manner but in a way that suggests you’ve given it due consideration. Don’t be afraid to highlight its benefits. After all, these are the qualities that people who hold this view will put forward in its favour. But then go on to dismiss this idea by describing the pitfalls and such an approach. This strengthens your own argument and lends it credibility.
But don’t take my word for it. Daniel O’ Keefe at the University of Illinois collated the results of more than a hundred studies on the subject conducted over a fifty year period. 20,000 people took part in the research which saw psychologists compare one-sided and two-sided arguments to see which were the most persuasive in different contexts and with a variety of audiences. It was concluded beyond doubt that two-sided arguments are more persuasive than their one-sided equivalents.
So is this really proof? Well, it’s one side of the argument at least.