Room for an argument

September 10, 2007 at 9:37 am 6 comments

People are usually more convinced
by reasons they discovered themselves
than by those found out by others.
Blaise Pascal

There is no better way to win an argument, than by having your opponent agree with you.

That pithy summary of how to win an argument is perhaps a bit too much tongue in cheek for most tastes, but it just happens to be true. If your side of the argument is logically true then you don’t need to ‘win’ the argument, you just need your opponent to discover that they agree with you.

This isn’t always possible. Sometimes we disagree at such a fundamental level that we share no common ground. More often though, arguments perpetuate themselves because we make no attempt to find out what we have in common. We’re more focused on ‘winning points’ than on finding out what we already agree on.

In the Monty Hall solution I offered in the Technobility blog, there’s no attempt at ‘convincing’ anyone of anything. It’s more a series of questions relating to what the audience already knows to be true. We’ll step through it here once again – commenting on each ‘discovery’.

Step 1) They choose one box out of three
therefore the odds they selected correctly are 1/3
Step 2) What about the two boxes they left behind?
The odds are 2/3 that they contain the $1M
Step 3) Would they exchange their first choice… for the remaining two boxes?
Given what they stated in Step #1 and #2… the choice is obvious.
Step 4) What do they know for certain about the two boxes they now possess?
Well… at least ONE of them is empty…
Did that knowledge affect their choice to switch to the two boxes?

Step 5) So? If you’ve selected one box…
and I open one of the remaining boxes…
would you switch to the remaining unopened box?

At every step of the way – all you do is ask questions – you pull information, you don’t push it.

Look to an existing argument you’re having, forget about where you differ for a moment, focus instead on what you have in common. The solution to the argument may be there.


Entry filed under: Leaders, Leadership, Life, Management, Problem Solving.

Just Mark the Line First? Burn your Power Point

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. de Jager’s Jiggler #3 — Answer « Technobility  |  September 10, 2007 at 9:44 am

    […] For some commentary on this form of persuasion – head to to today’s installment of The Sisyphus Chronicles. […]

  • 2. Bruce Stewart  |  September 10, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    This is why Plato claimed 2,400 years ago that we already knew everything we seemed to learn. This process of dialogue that uses questions to bring someone to agreement – the Socratic method – is quite effective. (Plato went over the top with the Theory of Forms he built on top of this observation, but that doesn’t make the observation itself invalid.)

    Another useful approach, I have found, is to walk someone through your own thought process and a little history. This is somewhat alien to North Americans, who are used to functional explanations and short answers (10 second answers to 2,000 year old questions, as a friend of mine once put it). Still, if you can get people to be patient for a minute or two, you can draw them into the story you are weaving. You don’t ask for agreement; you simply give them your route to the conclusion. They almost can’t help themselves from thinking about the question in a more open manner. (See this for an example of doing this exact thing in print, something recommended by Thomas Langan in Tradition and Authenticity in the Search for Ecumenic Wisdom as a means of both clarifying your own position and making it accessible for consideration by others.)

  • 3. Jim Batterson  |  September 28, 2007 at 2:20 pm

    Please pardon a late comment, I’m just getting caught up.

    Your explanation is simple, elegant and persuasive.

    Another way of seeing the Monty Hall problem is to imagine that one begins with, say, 1000 boxes. You choose one, and then we reveal that 998 of the remaining boxes are empty. Would you switch with the one remaining box? Easy choice.

  • 4. technobility  |  September 29, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Jim, you’d think it would be easy – but I have seen people, once the choice is down to two boxes who get hung up on the ‘I don’t know which box it’s in – and there are two boxes left, therefore the chances must be 50/50’ argument.

    We have to face facts – for the most part, people are not mathematical animals.

    Have fun, enjoy the day

  • 5. Idetrorce  |  December 15, 2007 at 10:09 am

    very interesting, but I don’t agree with you

  • 6. technobility  |  December 17, 2007 at 8:27 am

    Idetrorce – Okay, I’ll play – where do you see a flaw in my reasoning?


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