OPINION: Why it's useless to argue

Robert Labayen -- ExecuTips

Posted at Sep 12 2018 05:16 PM

It’s almost always a waste of time to engage in an argument. Of course, people who like to debate will dispute this statement.

It is extremely rare to see two parties resolve a disagreement right on the spot. What usually follows is a walkout, a break-up, a temporary silent truce, or a fist-fight. In any case, people only hold on even more firmly to their current beliefs.

In the book "Persuasion Tactics," social skills coach Patrick King advises us to not waste effort trying to influence people who have already made up their mind. It is more efficient to target people “who are either (1) on the fence or (2) open to being persuaded.”

Confirmation Bias

It is a natural tendency for people to fall into the trap of confirmation bias. We look for evidence that supports our existing beliefs as we try to negate or ignore anything that opposes our opinion.

It takes a lot of mental energy and physical effort to change one’s mind, habits, and relationships. For example, accepting a new religious belief may require you to change your values, separate from family and friends, change your clothes, food, and lifestyle, look for a new place to worship. You may even lose your job. It is so much easier to maintain the status quo.

One research noted that some citizens tolerate political dynasties because they don’t want to start from scratch building a relationship with a new ruling power.

In the book "Psychological Triggers," Peter Hollins wrote that “humans will seek to do the least amount for the greatest benefit possible. This is otherwise known as seeking the path of least resistance--the human drive for energy conservation and sloth.”

Ego and Anger

Possibly the most useless argument to have is one with an angry person.

Brain researchers Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman in "How God Changes Your Brain" reported that anger “interrupts the frontal lobes” of the brain. He said that being angry makes you “lose the ability to be rational” as you also “lose the awareness that you are acting in an irrational way.” He added that when the frontal lobes shut down, “it is impossible to listen to the other person…Instead, you are likely to feel justified and self-righteous.”

The shutting down of the frontal lobes happens at the same time that there’s increased activity in the amygdala, the brain region responsible for responding to threat. Apparently, the brain primes the body to fight when it senses the contrary opinion as an attack.

Many people in high positions don’t want to be proven wrong or to be challenged. That’s why many political figures, corporate heads, religious leaders, and intellectuals are not so nice and open when listening to opinions from their subordinates. Believe it or not, many scientists admitted it was extremely difficult to present radical ideas to an intellectual community, the supposed-to-be seekers of the truth!

Politics and Intelligence

I don’t really know the IQ of many politicians and their hard-core supporters. They lose any sign of intelligence when they speak to support the obviously irrational position or actions of their leaders or party. When contradicting them, we need not expect to win. They will not budge. It is enough that we express our thoughts in the hope that we can still influence the undecided or the disenchanted.

But political commentary has been a dangerous thing in many countries.

The book "The Dictator’s Handbook" by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith narrated that autocratic rulers protected their regime by quickly repressing dissenting opinion. They removed from office, jailed, maligned, and even killed their critics. Their tactic was to send a message to the citizenry that contradicting the government had very little chance of success and was not worth all the trouble.

In your office, be on the lookout for bosses who idolize dictators.

What to do instead

When in a conversation, you need not hope for a conversion all the time. Instead, just respectfully listen to the other person’s opinion. Don’t judge, especially if the topic is religion, politics, or race. But don’t commit to agreeing with them, unless you have been genuinely convinced. If there’s a chance, calmly express your own thoughts but don’t expect the other party to be swayed. Maybe someday, you will win them over if you have succeeded in “planting a seed” in their mind.

If the boss is listening, it’s okay to express your point of view. You can look more confident and smarter if you keep your cool in the face of opposition. You may disagree with them but resist the temptation to raise your voice or to be rude. Even in social media. Resist the desire to win at all costs right away. If you are really right, you will be proven right at the right time.

By the way, these are just suggestions. You are free to negate.

(How to persuade and motivate people will be the topic of another article.)

References:

Persuasion Tactics by Patrick King

Psychological Triggers by Peter Hollins

How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg ad Mark Robert Waldman

The Dictator’s Handbook by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barret

Suggested Reading: Willful Blindness by Margaret Hefferman

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Read more about ExecuTips on www.robertlabayen.com

About the Author:

Robert Labayen spent 22 years in advertising prior to joining ABS-CBN in 2004. He was VP-Creative Director at Saatchi & Saatchi and Executive Creative Director at J. Walter Thompson, two of the country's leading ad agencies. He is currently the Head of Creative Communications Management at ABS-CBN. His job involves inspiring people to be their best. He is a writer, painter and songwriter.

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.