Successful conversations. Is this fallacy blocking it?

Successful conversations. Don't judge the personIn order to have successful conversations and to obtain more influence it is necessary that people listen to you and become convinced of your views. According to the argumentation theory you should be convinced by substantive arguments. You judge a position independently of the person. You shouldn’t judge a position based on the fact that someone seems unstable or unreliable, has personal or business interests, or because there’s an inconsistency between words and deeds.

Suppose you have to argue that the processing of leather clothing should be abolished. But you’re wearing a leather jacket. A fallacy that you’ll hear is: “I think what you say is wrong, because you’re wearing leather yourself!”

Such inconsistency is for many people a reason to not listen to you. They don’t look if your position are supported by arguments and they think that they don’t have to give counter-arguments. They only attack you as a person and thus the discussion is closed in their opinion (and even won). In other words, they use the fallacy “ad hominem” (attacking the person).

If the person is attacked, then what actually is said is that a person is not allowed to participate in a discussion, or that there is no need to be listened to, because that person is unreliable, biased or otherwise unbelievable.

But the fact that someone is unreliable or unbelievable, does not mean that one’s position is incorrect. To verify the accuracy of a position the substantive arguments should be reviewed.

I often get questions about the fallacy “attacking the person”. How can you be persuaded if someone’s behavior is not consistent with his position? I‘ve had those questions myself too. I sometimes have trouble believing some people, because of their interest, person or behavior. While I rationally agree with the position.

The argumentation theory writes thus to look purely at the content. But the argumentation theory seems to forget that we are people who are affected by the person who is saying it, and that we base our choices and judgments on that too. You can want that it does not happen, but it does happen. Therefore, you’d better make the best of it.

If you want to express a position and persuade others, then it is best to have good factual arguments and credibility by being consistent in your views and your actions. Because if you’re not credible, what are your words worth? You could be declare the truth, but if no one listens, then that truth is worthless. Without credibility, nobody listens to you and you will definitely not have successful conversations.

Unfortunately, it is impossible to always be consistent. The reality is too complex  with many dilemmas and conflicting principles.

Therefore don’t be hard on someone when he is inconsistent. Those who are inconsistent actions are also people who live in a complex reality. Take the example of leather jacket again. Maybe someone is wearing a leather jacket, because he used to be okay with it but thought it would be a waste to throw it away because the jacket is still good. Maybe he got the jacket from the Salvation Army because he was not financially able to buy his own jacket.

Instead of blocking the discussion with a fallacy, it is more helpful to ask about somebody’s motives. Apparently there is a reason that someone is not acting consistently with his views. Is there an underlying problem? Can someone not propagate his principles due to financial problems? Where do these financial problems come from? Maybe there are more people who can’t apply their principles due to financial problems?

Use the inconsistency to look at what is really going on and find the underlying problem, because then you will have successful conversations, find solutions that really work and increase your influence.


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Do you want to practice successful conversations without fallacies? Check when I’m giving the Environmental Discussions Workshop here _______________________________________________________________________________

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