In my book, Mastering Table Topics, I have an exercise called Opposing View. Participants are given questions that force them to argue in favor of an opposing point of view. Learning how to argue for the other side enables you to do the following:
- Identify weaknesses in your argument.
- Understand your opponent’s objections to your point of view so that you can address them.
- Show knowledge and respect for the opposing view so that you can earn the respect and attention of your audience.
How do you argue for an opposing view, especially on a subject for which you have strong beliefs? Here are some tips.
Learn everything you can about the opposing side. Read their articles and editorials, watch their videos, and look at their political cartoons. You want to learn the thinking and assumptions behind their opinions as well as the nuts and bolts of their arguments.
Get inside the heads of their supporters
Why do these proponents believe the way they do? Is it for religious or personal reasons? Is it because of past experiences? Is it because of the culture and the history of the place where they live? Whatever you do, don’t dismiss these people as crazy, stupid, or evil. People’s beliefs always seem rational to them, even if they don’t seem that way to you.
Understand the purpose of their argument
What do they hope to accomplish with their beliefs? Do they want to change society? Keep society from changing in what they think is the wrong direction? Do they want to promote their group or restrict the rights of another? Don’t resort to your knee-jerk reactions when you look at their motivations. Take the time to understand what their goals really are. They may be more noble than you think.
Argue for their side sincerely and convincingly
Once you understand their views, practice building a strong and convincing argument on their behalf. As you do, don’t condescend or mock them. You need to understand the strengths and convictions behind their arguments before you can effectively counter them.
Win your argument by respecting their side
By understanding and respecting the other side, you’ll be able sway those who are unconvinced or even opposed to your point of view. Demonizing your opposition may appeal to the true believers of your cause, but you will alienate everyone else (including many of your supporters). Remember that the most effective speakers in history were able to argue passionately for their cause without disparaging the causes of others. Learning to understand and respect others will make you a more effective speaker.