Winning hearts and minds: effective debating techniques


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Oleg Volk
April 20, 2007, 12:58 PM
Sometimes, we get a chance to talk to people opposed to gun ownership. Debates turn into angry arguments and, more often than not, the two sides part failing to convince the other. Yet, from the advertising point of view, debates with individuals or small groups are ideal for transmitting ideas, changing hearts and minds. What can we do to succeed?

We can begin to succeed by not insulting the opposition. Can you imagine a Coke commercial which would call Pepsi drinkers degenerates and try to shame them into giving up their loathsome vice? It would hardly be the vehicle for conversion of the target market. Yet people on our side often say: "I really gave that damn anti a piece of my mind!" and then wonder why the other party failed to reform.

Personal contact with other people gives us certain opportunities denied to mass marketers and media. The foremost advantage is the ability to find out exactly what the other person thinks. Instead of launching into a rant, why not begin by asking questions? Most people are very fond of telling their views to others, especially if the questions are open-ended and non-adversarial. "What do you thing about..." or "How would..." are good basis for such inquiries. Formulating the answers to such questions also allows the other person some soul-searching in the privacy of their own mind. Showing a genuine interest in the foundations of someone's views provides us with a good understanding of his thought process and background. It also puts that person in charge of the conversation and emotionally comfortable.

The answers provided would give you a good idea of the others' views. When facing a staunch and active opponent, debating to impress the onlookers would be a more realistic option than trying to convert a person set in his beliefs. Conversely, if facing a fence-sitter, you should help that person arrive to his own conclusions by supplying facts and posing logical questions. The first step to succeeding in a task is knowing the goal, be it persuasion of the other debater, impressing the audience, or convincing an opponent to cease a particular activity without necessarily endorsing your views.

For your efforts to yield positive effects, you must conduct yourself in a polite, cordial and civil manner. Scaring or annoying the audience into quitting is a loss of an opportunity. Because we and "them" do not always speak the same language, avoid hyperbole in your explanations. The listeners may take an exaggeration for effect quite literally. Likewise, avoid slang or argot terms, such as "perp" or "goblin". Those may sound fine to us, but would emphasize the divide between you and your audience. Speak their kind of language instead.

When it comes to marketing methods, several standard approaches can work. One of the simplest and most effective is authority endorsement or reference. Keep in mind that the definition of authority has little to do with competence on a specific subject. Although an obvious and respected figure for us, John M. Browning would not be known or well-received by people who are not firearms enthusiasts. Conversely, Dalai Lama or the Pope or some popular entertainer may know little of the topic but be influential by the virtues of other credentials.

Another approach centers around benefits to the person with who you are debating the issue, or to his immediate family or friends. Illustrate relevant points, using simple analogies, such as the comparison of seat belts, fire extinguishers, firearms and other emergency management tools. Demonstrate how long it takes to dial a cell phone compared to drawing a sidearm. For the demonstration, a cell phone would make a fine stand-in for a pistol.

Since emotion, rather than logic, drives many decisions, appeal to that. Prompt an ethical stand on such topics as equal treatment before the law, right to personal safety from harm and coercion, the evils of collective responsibility and prior restraint. Point out the lack of logic in the laws. A typical logical chain can go like this: "Do you think that off-duty or retired police officers should be able to carry side arms for self-defense?" If they reply in the negative, that off-duty carry does not serve the interest of the state, then you know that the respondent cannot be converted and endeavor to impress the bystanders instead. If the answer is "yes", then ask if it is the training, rather than the badge, that makes a person eligible to carry a weapon. Then suggest that similarly trained people who are not cops ought to be able to protect themselves also. Tailor the specific question and answer sequence to the situation at hand.

The main advantage of the Socratic method is that it allows a polite, non-confrontational debate with people who agree only on the most basic of concepts. Do not press the others to admit to being influenced by you or to changing their minds. The process is usually gradual, and tends to come as a part of a greater philosophical re-alignment towards greater respect for individual freedom. In my case, the evolution from an ignorant person with neutral to negative views towards gun ownership to an educated positive view took about six years. The change came from the combination of conversations with friends, reading books and personal experience. We can help others learn at their own pace.

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bogie
April 20, 2007, 01:22 PM
"Conversion" also isnt' like flipping an on/off switch... It's more like a dimmer... Take it a little bit at a time, and you'll see the light _start_ to come on...

DogBonz
April 20, 2007, 01:35 PM
I find that most anti’s that I encounter think of them selves as learned, educated folks with open minds who consider us as closed minded, rabid, blood thirsty Neanderthals. Now, no matter how far from the truth any of that is, I use it to my advantage. I challenge them and their “open mindedness”. Most of them have never even seen a real gun, never mind shot one. So, I offer to take them to the range, telling them that they can then debate from the stand point of an informed person. I use that as a “learning experience” opportunity, which they must either accept or be seen as the closed minded nit wit that they accuse me of being. Once at the range, they quickly see how wrong they were.

bogie
April 20, 2007, 01:37 PM
We also all too often tend to prefer a full-on frontal assault with fixed bayonets, throwing our entire inventory at them head on.

That doesn't work.

What does work is flanking maneuvers - little squads of thought, doing end runs around their defenses.

That's how we'll get progressive legislation passed to repeal repressive anti-self-defense laws.

Cesiumsponge
April 20, 2007, 01:45 PM
Simple and best method I learned in college for effectively debating when convincing others is the objective and the topic is high tension...

Rogerian style argument.

This kind of argument is based on Roger’s "principles of communications:"

1. Threat hinders communication. When a person feels threatened by what another person is saying (or writing), he or she is apt to stop listening (or reading) in order to protect the ego and reduce anxiety.
2. Making strong statements of opinion stimulates an audience to respond with strong opinions. Once people have expressed these opinions, they are more likely to be interested in defending them than in discussing them.
3. Biased language increases threat; neutral language reduces it.
4. One reduces threat and increases the chance of communication with someone by demonstrating that one understands that person’s point of view.
5. One improves communication by establishing an atmosphere of trust.

Maxine Hairston has identified five elements of a non-threatening Rogerian argument. These are not meant to be the outline of a paper; Rogerian argument, in particular, does not lend itself to formulae. A non-threatening argument should, however, contain these elements:

1. A brief and objectively phrased statement that defines the issue.
2. A complete and neutrally worded analysis of the other side’s position.
3. A complete and neutrally worded analysis of the position you hold. You should carefully avoid any suggestion that you are more moral or sensitive than your audience.
4. An analysis of what your positions have in common and what goals and values you share.
5. A proposal for resolving the issue in a way that recognizes the interests of both parties.


You overwhelm people and they will stop listening to you, period. Rogerian argumenting is a tactile method and requires practice but you'll convince more people this way than beating them on the head with facts.

Hit google for hundreds of links. Below are several examples (and my text source)
http://www1.esc.edu/personalfac/hshapiro/professional_communications/advice_outline.htm
http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/co300man/com5e1.cfm

beaucoup ammo
April 20, 2007, 02:34 PM
Getting a person to the range..someone unfamiliar with firearms is, as a rule, very difficult and time consuming. If you lack patience, invest your energies elsewhere, IMO.

Perception Is Everything. Period. You may very well be the most friendly, well intentioned guy in the room. However, if you demean the other person's viewpoint in any way: "Wow, nothing could be further from the truth", etc... you've instantly lost ground and, in all probability, any chance of getting the would be convert to see your argument..let alone have them join you at the range...which is the goal, since hands on/visual participation is the best "conversion" tool we have.

What's your opinion of an Anti who puts you down regarding your affinity for guns? Just blasts away with no substance? Distaste at best, IMO. It works in the reverse. If you are seriously intent on presenting the Pro RKBA stance in the best possible light, one needs to invest a substantial amount of time preparing to do so with a great deal of thought as to how you will be perceived.

Vague generalizations, statements and stats that can't be backed up or referenced are going to fall flat and only serve to hurt the Pro RKBA effort. Combine a poor presentation with "attitude", and the person you've been trying to win over will walk away smug and confident that you have confirmed their basic belief that all "gunnies" are illiterate wind bags unable to substantiate their beliefs.

Oleg is right on the money. Look at his visuals. He arrives at these effective works in large part by reasearch. He asks for input. There's a reason for that, IMO. Oleg wants to make his efforts the best possible. Not to be presumptuous, but I would wager we would all make better "ambassadors" if we gave our Pro RKBA "conversations" the same attention.

coelacanth
April 22, 2007, 12:41 AM
I like a lot of the ideas in here so far - too often we go "sloganeering" and then leave people to draw their own conclusions about RKBA without gently guiding them through the thought process required to accomplish meaningful change. The reasoned approach is often best when accompanied by a direct emotional appeal to a person's own sense of violation should they or a loved one become a victim of crime. Neil Boortz had a column recently posted in here that directly addressed this point. For most anti's and many other's who just have no experience with guns the entire concept triggers their fight or flight response so they have to be guided through that to get them to a point where they can reason it out. Nothing works 100% of the time but this is the best route for me.

BayouTeche77
April 22, 2007, 12:54 AM
I agree with all that you folks are saying and would just like to throw out my favorite way of enlightening folks who seem to be devoid of any first hand knowledge to justify their prejudice. I take them shooting. I treat them like an equal, but with caution at first.

If it is someone that I do not know well enough to take shooting with me, I ask them if they are aquainted with a knowledgeable firearm owner. You would be seriously surprised how many die-hard anti-gun individuals are related to, or their best friend is, a gun advocate. Then ask them to approach this gun owner and with an honestly open mind, have them at least show you how to properly handle an unloaded weapon. This is by far the hardest step, the first one always is, but if you can overcome this hurdle the person you were debating with will most probably have a little respect for your viewpoint and understand your argument. This in know way means they will become your shooting buddy (in my case it did a couple times though) but they will understand.

Also, a lot of folks that post their arguments, progun, on this site and many others, seem too unrelenting. Some arguments brought about by the anti-gun crowd are indeed valid, but they do not always hold true (very simple example: "Guns are used to kill people" Well guns are also used to protect people, hence law enforcement officers utilize this capability). It is this situation that allows for our point of view to be explained.

eliphalet
April 22, 2007, 01:09 AM
Unless someone is receptive I try to just give an idea or two hopefully something to make them stop and think and not just run with emotion. Short and sweet but to the point, ideas to cause a person to think about it now or later perhaps Many times if you try to persuade you lose them as folks tend to reject the others ideas in a debate which can quickly or to easily lead to augmentative statements by either. This is a rule of thumb I use along with trying to read how they are excepting or rejecting my thoughts on firearms.

ArmsAkimber
April 22, 2007, 01:31 AM
As far as the issue of the meaning of the second amendment, I'd suggest directing them to the essay entitled, The Embarrassing Second Amendment (http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/embar.html).

More topically, if an anti suggests that making CCW on college campuses illegal, as a way of preventing disasters of the magnitude of Virginia Tech, ask him/her the following question: Would you post a sign outside your house saying, "this is a gun free home." When they tender the nigh-inevitable response, "No! That would invite a break-in," follow-up with the question, "then why on earth do you believe that a similar sign and policy would make a college campus safer."

I must admit, I tire of anti BS. Once, a friend reacted with self-righteous incredulity when I showed him my NRA card. I replied with the following challenge: "I have a 12-guage and 45 at the ready to defend my wife, if a bad guy breaks into my home with the intention of killing me and raping her. You have a telephone. Who is safer?" He wasn't a happy camper.

John Rogers
April 22, 2007, 03:33 AM
Great post, Oleg.

I'm in agreement with most of what's been written here so far. A few other things to consider..

There's a difference between getting someone to agree with you or comply with an immediate request, and really changing the way they think about an issue.

There are different ways for an idea to get through. One way involves less thought and is more effective in a context of emotion or distraction. This is where simple arguments from highly credible sources or fundamental values are effective. Another way involves more thought and is more effective in a context of thoughtful debate or individual reflection. When people are really thinking through the details they may be more likely to be influenced by logic or the consideration of different potential outcomes to a hypothetical situation. Use the wrong method in the wrong context and you're wasting your time.

Another thing to consider is group dynamics. A majority vs a minority in a group setting tends to result in the minority shutting up and agreeing with the majority. Depending on the nature of the group relations, this can very quickly result in strong, long lasting opinion change (on the part of the conforming minority). On the other hand, a dissenting numerical minority can have tremendous power to influence majority group members if it maintains a consistent position. This type of influence will not be immediately seen, as the majority will tend to react negatively and strongly, even violently against the dissenter(s). But at the same time that majority is changing the way they think in important ways. They begin to think more divergently, considering more perspectives and more creative solutions to problems. This can lead to real and lasting opinion change, but here is a lot that is not understood about how it happens.

I have actually done some research on this stuff, and think that there really is something to the idea that minority opinions can induce profound change. But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are also more than a few people who think that the notion is preposterous and there is nothing different in the ways minorities and majorities persuade or fail to persuade.

For those who are interested in the psychology of persuasion and opinion change, I'd recommend reading anything by Robert Cialdini for an engaging and practical approach that has a good foundation in psychological research.

John (no relation to Carl)

Sylvan-Forge
April 22, 2007, 05:54 AM
Excellent thread!

Personal contact with other people gives us certain opportunities denied to mass marketers and media. The foremost advantage is the ability to find out exactly what the other person thinks.This is the cornerstone of persuasion! This is one reason why marketers so dearly love personal information databases.

A few thoughts:

Study.
Preliminary research before engaging in debate is very worthwhile.
Understanding different cultures and their value systems can aid in developing the most effective tack.
Basic example: In dealing with a socialistic culture, an appeal to the benefit of the social group or society in general rather than the individual can garner a more favorable reaction.
A little careful reading of what your opponent has previously written or spoken can also be quite helpful.

Goodwill.
You know the old sayiing, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Also, use care when jesting your opponent. It is easy to slight someone with seemingly innocent humor, even if your not consciencely aware of it. Folks have a tendency to tell what they really think with the timing and context of their humorous remarks.

Devil in the details.
Take care not to pile it on too heavily.
Also take care not to get derailed.
Though at times, what seems like a derail may in fact be a genuine tangental thought process of your opponent. Humor them until it becomes painfully obvious to you and others. Call 'em on it and go on to impressing the onlookers.

If you don't have the inclination or time to get into serious debate (I'm guilty) get your message out there anyways! Besides, it might help just to get it off your chest.
Nothing wrong with a heart felt treatise.
Although bolstering a friendly force's argument still requires tact and good timing.

Edit to add : In one evil Fuehrer's statement about telling a lie long enough, loud enough..
well, telling the truth can work in much the same way.

RealGun
April 22, 2007, 12:05 PM
Borrow credibility by citing your own sources of education on the topic. Describing experience is worth a lot too. It is not as if all things must flow from academia or those with a doctorate, but trying to be the sole authority just because you say so will create resistance. One opposing view is really no less credible than yours.

What I find is that being antigun is viseral, often based upon the message from the media, but it is based upon very little real world information or any view or facts that would balance the role of guns that is commonly portrayed in the media.

As in my own education about gun rights and the role guns play, there needed to be some foundation material in place before any meaningful conversion occured or before I was equipped to represent gun owners in any discussion. I think that would mean that one should patiently build the pyramid, not trying to win some grand point without the opponent able to appreciate the arguments.

bogie
April 22, 2007, 12:48 PM
Guys, despite Oleg's title, this is NOT about debating. But it is about winning hearts and minds.

It is OKAY to use intangibles, such as emotion.

If you get too complicated, you lose them, whether your point was correct or not.

If you come on too hard, you lose them.

This is more a case of "we have to gently lead them toward common sense" than a "bludgeon them with facts" situation.

Picture a fly fisherman with a 20 pound trout on a 3 pound test leader...

Waitone
April 22, 2007, 04:26 PM
Facts are always interpreted in a framework composed of assumptions. Until assumptions are identified debate is a waste of time. I'd rather spend time dealing with assumptions than go off after choice factoids of dubious value. There is a place for facts in dealing with those who oppose the right of self defense. Unfortunately our current opposition is more emotional than factual and emotions are always based in a series of assumptions.

obxned
April 22, 2007, 08:45 PM
Logic and statistics will never change a hard-core anti-'s mind on the subject of concealed carry, but just one large BG with a knife or a tire iron can do it in a nanosecond.

jad0110
April 22, 2007, 09:00 PM
Oleg,

Great thread, I was thinking how this would be a great time for such a thread. If everyone here could reach just one anti, even if it took years, we will have made a tremendous amount of progress.

This is a great read for those of you that have time, I highly recommend:

http://www.sightm1911.com/lib/ccw/rage.htm

adobewalls
April 22, 2007, 10:40 PM
One suggestion is to try and plant "seeds" that an anti- will remember as they go through life and have different life experiences. It is amazing how a well turned phrase may stick in the unconscious of the target, to be recalled at some future date triggered by some life experience that will cause the anti- to re-contemplate his beliefs in a whole new light.

That is why I think it remains a good idea to participate in the debates, al beit taking the high road, not to "win" arguments outright - but to sow the seeds of an epiphany at some future date.

Richmond
April 22, 2007, 10:51 PM
As said, this thread, which is excellent, is about persuasion rather than argument. That said, I have this little checklist for identifying fallacies in argument/debate. Not sure where it came from originally, but I find it useful.

ad hominem -- Latin for "to the man," attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g. Dave is known to drink, therefore you should ignore his argument)

argument from authority (e.g., your boss has a secret plan which will save the company. You should trust him because he is your boss.)

argument from adverse consequences (e.g., The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives)

appeal to ignorance -- the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa (e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist -- and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe. Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble (e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple? Special plead: you don't understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will. Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person? Special plead: You don't understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity. Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion -- to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long? Special plead: You don't understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)

begging the question, also called assuming the answer (e.g., The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors -- but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of "adjustment" and profit-taking; have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?)

observational selection[,b], also called the enumeration of favourable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses (e.g., The Cold Steel Proof video shows you every time the demonstrations worked, but doesn't tell you about any failures)

[b]statistics of small numbers -- a close relative of observational selection (e.g., "They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese.)

misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., Expressing surprise that half of all children get below average exam results.)

inconsistency (e.g., Ban cigarette smoking on the grounds that it is harmful to passive smokers but not considering the effects of environmental pollution from the nearby steelworks)

non sequitur -- Latin for "It doesn't follow" (e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great. But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the Germans formulation was "Gott mit uns"). Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities

post hoc, ergo propter hoc - Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by" (e.g., Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons – therefore women voting cause nuclear weapons)

meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa)

excluded middle, or false dichotomy -- considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities (e.g., "Sure, take her side; my husband's perfect; I'm always wrong." Or: "Either you love your country or you hate it." Or: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem")

short-term vs. long-term -- a subset of the excluding middle, but so important I've pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can't afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets. Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?)

slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first week of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant. Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception)

confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay. Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore -- despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter -- the latter causes the former)

straw man -- caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack (e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance -- a formulation that wilfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn't. Or -- this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy -- environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people)

suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted "prophecy" of the assassination attempt on President Regan is shown on television; but – an important detail -- was it recorded before or after the event?)

weasel words (e.g., Euphemisms for acts which are considered distasteful – e.g. “Police Action” rather than “Invasion”, “Diplock Courts” rather than “Suspension of trial by jury” or “Indentured Servitude” rather than “Slavery”
Talleyrand said, "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public").

bogie
April 22, 2007, 11:35 PM
Huh?

Didn't read it. Too long.

I mean, isn't it common sense to want someone to be there to protect you?

One sentence.

swingset
April 23, 2007, 03:10 AM
Didn't read it. Too long.

That's a shame, you probably should have.

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