Courage means taking action despite fear. To be a courageous leader, you’ll make decisions and choices that you believe are right even when there isn’t 100% agreement… even in the face of some negative backlash… and even when others may disagree. You won’t do this haphazardly. You’ll do it after weighing diverse opinions, hearing others’ input, and objectively evaluating information and different perspectives.
Throughout this series on information overload and other challenges related to the quantity and quality of information available, we’ve stressed the importance of objectivity and diversity. The aim is to help you use information in ways that protect your credibility and improve your effectiveness.
Critical thinking is essential for being more discerning about the sources and information you rely on. Argumentation skills are a subset of critical thinking. Good leaders develop skills for argumentation (not to be confused with unproductive arguing!)
What Exactly Is Argumentation?
Argumentation is defined as the process of developing or presenting an argument; reasoning. It’s used for discussions with a controversial point or anytime something is disputed rather than universally accepted as fact.
This is a process of reasoning, so you may have productive argumentation even with yourself. Your critical thinking should include argumentation so that are looking at issues from multiple perspectives.
To make argumentation productive and useful, it’s best to make it a process. Otherwise, it’s too easy for emotion to override reason and for confirmation bias to lead you astray. Without process, you’re also more likely to end up in an unproductive argument that triggers defensiveness, combativeness, and other undesirable outcomes.
The Five Components of Effective Argumentation
This simple process for argumentation will keep you on track. Knowing that there are five steps will keep you on track and keep the dialogue progressing rather than deteriorating. It’s important to present your argument in this order.
- Claim: It all starts with a claim, position or assertion. State it objectively.
- Counter-Claim: The opposing claim, position or assertion should be stated objectively, too. When it comes from someone else, work to understand it rather than dismissing it too quickly because it doesn’t fit your own beliefs or interferes with your preferences.
- Reasons: For both the claim and the counter-claim, we need to understand the “why” that causes someone to make that assertion or take that position. When others are giving their reasons, listen closely. There may be “sacred cows” or deeply entrenched beliefs behind their claims. There could also be misunderstandings, reliance on outdated or unreliable information. You can’t dispute their claim effectively if you don’t fully understand why they believe what they believe.
- Evidence: This is where objective, fact-based, non-biased proof comes into play. Again, you need to know this for both the claim and the counter-claim. This is an easier step if all parties agree on what will be accepted as facts. When people have strong confirmation biases or have difficulty accepting facts that conflict with their feelings, this step becomes more challenging to navigate.
- Emotional Appeal: Why is this last? Because it’s so powerful that it will make you neglect the previous steps. We naturally put more weight on emotion than fact, so starting here only exacerbates this. To be objective, we have to sort out what’s emotional and what’s more objective. But don’t skip this step, either! Emotions are going to be in the mix, so we need to take them into account.
When listening to others present their arguments, counsel them to include the missing information when they leap from claim to emotion. Ask about their reasons and their evidence. Check to see if they understand the counter-claim or are trying to proceed without understanding.
Good argumentation dignifies others, sets an example for how to be deliberative and minimize the impact of unconscious biases, and exposes you to new ideas and information. Practicing effective argumentation also protects you against gaslighting and tricky argumentation technique that others may use to manipulatively “win” their arguments.
Courageous Leaders Call Out Attempts Argumentation Trickery
These four Latin phrases explain four types of flimsy arguments that people make that we ought to be on the lookout for. These are not sound arguments. They're somewhat manipulative, so we need to be aware when they're happening. And we need to be able to take steps to avoid getting sucked in by these kinds of arguments.
And, of course, as good critical thinkers, we also want to avoid using this kind of argumentation to try to cause others to be persuaded by what we're sharing. We can be so much more effective if we don't use cheap tactics like these.
You can practice spotting these techniques by watching political speeches. Sadly, you can often bust politicians on all four of these, sometimes in rapid fire delivery, all in the same speech.
Argumentum ad Ignorantiam
The translation means "it's true because there is no evidence to disprove it" or "it's true because it hasn't been proven false." This is, of course, absolutely absurd as a reason to believe anything.
Our humility ought to cause us to think “Well, wait a minute… just because we don't have all the information doesn't mean it's true or untrue. It means we don't know.” Don’t let overconfidence keep you from seeking proof and doing good thinking!
An example of this particular type of false argument would be: “It's true that there is life on Jupiter. I know it's true, because it's never been proven false.” See how simplistic that is? How overreaching that sort of a statement actually is?
In the United States justice system, a core tenet is “innocent until proven guilty,” and the high standard for proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” That’s because we don’t operate with Argumentum ad Ignorantiam. Imagine what would happen if an individual had to prove their innocence! I could say “You stole my pen,” and there’s very little chance you could ever prove that you did not steal my pen. There wouldn’t often be information that would disprove my claim. That’s not fair or reasonable!
Argumentum ad Misericordiam
This is an argument that is based primarily in an appeal to someone’s mercy or pity. When this technique is used, it’s rarely backed up with facts or logic. Sometimes, there’s a single tragic example shown. It’s implied (but not proven) that this is a widespread problem.
Just a few years back, there was a groundswell of support for banning plastic straws. This was based primarily on a sad photo of a sea turtle with a straw lodged in its nostrils. You’d have to be heartless to see that and not be moved. If you saw the video when the straw was removed, your emotions were ratcheted up even more.
But is this a common and widespread problem? That was what the campaign against straws implied. Or was the emotional impact what drove us into action thanks to this example of Argumentum ad Misericordiam?
Argumentum ad Populum
Everybody’s doing it! That’s the tactic used in this type of argument that relies on bandwagon appeal and FOMO. Propagandists exaggerate numbers and suppress outliers to create the illusion of mass appeal. You see this in most marketing campaigns and commercials. After all, we all want to belong and be a part of what’s trendy, widely accepted, or popular. But is it? Or is the “everybody” a fiction created by those who want it to be true… so they present it that way to lure you in.
Argumentum ad Verecundiam
This is also known as the False Authority Fallacy. Let's face it, we do rely on a lot of false authorities. Think about this for a minute. How qualified are Hollywood celebrities to inform you about politics or other matters? Remember the old TV commercial where someone said, "I'm not a doctor, but I play one on TV" in a commercial for Vicks 44 cough syrup.
That actor was imbued with false authority. The commercial significantly boosted sales of that cough syrup. It’s not logical. The logical response is “so what?” or “Exactly… you’re NOT a doctor.”
Don't let yourself get sucked into something like that. Question the authority, the credibility, the knowledge, and the legitimacy of the source. Why does that person have an opinion that should influence me? Why should I pay attention to this person talking about this issue?
Being a courageous leader means knowing when to stand up for truth and knowing how to be discerning so you’re not responding to deception or manipulation. That, along with constructing effective arguments, will boost both your confidence and your courage.
For more on critical thinking skills, check out our series on YouTube!