Learn to communicate. Communicate to learn.

Effective communication requires not just knowing how to talk to others but also mastering how to engage in constructive arguments and how to communicate with the intent of listening and learning.

We live in a time of permanent confrontation. If we take the public-political discourse as example, most people don’t engage in dialogue. People pretend to listen, but in reality most can’t wait for the other to finish talking before they start rebutting or counter-arguing what’s being said.

Learning about Arguments

The ideas you will learn through the following resources are meant to help you become a successful and engaged communicator. We’ll start by watching the video “For Argument’s sake.” Philosopher Daniel H. Cohen shows how our most common form of argument — a war in which one person must win and the other must lose — misses out on the real benefits of engaging in active disagreement.

Cohen discusses three models of arguments:

  1. Arguments as war [must win at all cost]
  2. Arguments as proofs [no opposition]
  3. Arguments as performance [the audience is involved – uses a rhetorical model]

From these models, argument as war is the dominant one and it elevates tactics over substance; the only foreseeable outcome is triumph. But what if we learn something from an opposing argument? Are we the losers if our argument is defeated?

The main lesson – Focus not on always winning an argument, but on having a cognitive gain and becoming a better arguer:

  1. Learn to benefit from losing
  2. Include yourself in the audience

How to criticize with kindness

Today everyone is a critic. And some people have learned how to become critics with just 140 characters or less, right? But as philosopher Daniel Dennet once asked, “Just how charitable are you supposed to be when criticizing the views of an opponent?”

In the following article, writer and blogger Maria Popova describes Dennet’s Four Steps to Arguing Intelligently. To summarize, if you want to compose a successfully critical commentary:

  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.”
  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).
  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.
  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

10 ways to have a better conversation

Finally, on this video from journalist Celeste Headlee, you’ll learn that it takes courage to have a meaningful conversation.

VIDEO DESCRIPTION: When your job hinges on how well you talk to people, you learn a lot about how to have conversations — and that most of us don’t converse very well. Celeste Headlee has worked as a radio host for decades, and she knows the ingredients of a great conversation: Honesty, brevity, clarity and a healthy amount of listening. In this insightful talk, she shares 10 useful rules for having better conversations. “Go out, talk to people, listen to people,” she says. “And, most importantly, be prepared to be amazed.”