Have you ever been in an argument with somebody that doesn’t play fair? Perhaps they don’t even address the point you’re trying to make, and instead, they twist your words in to something you don’t even mean, and in so doing, they make it look like you’re the jerk? Of course you have. We all have.
People use cheap tactics during arguments because they want to win. You do it and so do I. Have you ever had somebody argue that you hold a view that is not actually your view? Instead, they are taking a distorted view of what you believe, twisting your belief in to something bad, and then arguing that point to show that you’re wrong.
For example, John and Dave are debating whether nutrition or exercise is more important for getting in to shape. When reviewing this example, don’t get caught up in who is actually right or wrong, rather, pay attention to the argument technique Dave uses.
John states, “Nutrition and exercise are both important, but exercise is more important because it actually burns fat and adds muscle.”
Dave states, “Six packs are made in the kitchen, John. You can’t just dump buckets of grease down your throat all day every day and expect to get in shape because you did a jumping jack. Clearly you’re wrong.”
So, even though Dave might have a good point about nutrition, he attacked a position that John doesn’t actually hold. John never said he could get lean by dumping buckets of grease down his throat and doing one jumping jack. Dave fabricated and exaggerated John’s actual position to make himself right. Dave, therefore, created Straw Man out of John’s argument. Not a good tactic.
We see Straw Man arguments all the time in politics, and it’s destructive when in pursuit of truth. This can be seen in intimate relationships as well. If you Straw Man your wife’s argument, you are essentially sacrificing her trust and respect in favor of winning the argument. Straw Man works well for political enemies if you are clever about it, but is a dick move when it comes to people you love.
Try to Steel Man your next argument with your significant other. Steel Man, as opposed to Straw Man, is when you state your opponent’s (or wife’s) argument to the best of your ability before you offer up your counter-argument. When using the Steel Man tactic, you have to actually take her perspective, verbally state her position accurately and to the best of your ability, and then ask her if you are representing her position accurately. Once you get the affirmative nod from her, then you can proceed to make your argument.
The Steel Man tactic is about as fair as it gets, and is much more likely to lower the defenses of the person you’re arguing with. When your opponent knows you understand their position and aren’t trying to twist words via Straw Man tactics, they’re much more likely to listen to your point and potentially change their mind. If they don’t change their mind, then you have at least demonstrated you care enough about their perspective that your relationship survives the disagreement.
Become Colossus, my friends.