Really want to win an argument and convince someone they're wrong? One of the best ways to do that is to ask the other person to explain exactly how their idea would work.
Photo by Guian Bolisay
Even if we only have a superficial understanding of a topic we still tend to form an opinion about it. This is a mental shortcut that often results in us sprouting an opinion about something with no actual clue about how it would work in reality. So, if you want to derail someone's argument, the best thing you can often do is ask them to explain exactly how their idea would work, BBC Future suggests in an article:
Recruiting a sample of Americans via the internet, they polled participants on a set of contentious US policy issues, such as imposing sanctions on Iran, healthcare and approaches to carbon emissions. One group was asked to give their opinion and then provide reasons for why they held that view. This group got the opportunity to put their side of the issue, in the same way anyone in an argument or debate has a chance to argue their case.
Those in the second group did something subtly different. Rather that provide reasons, they were asked to explain how the policy they were advocating would work. They were asked to trace, step by step, from start to finish, the causal path from the policy to the effects it was supposed to have.
The results were clear. People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop in how they rated their understanding of the issues. People who had previously been strongly for or against carbon emissions trading, for example, tended to became more moderate — ranking themselves as less certain in their support or opposition to the policy.
It's a common tendency, so if you're trying to convince someone that you're right about something, ask them to explain precisely how it'd work. As we've pointed out before, the Socratic method is a great place to start that line of inquiry. Just be prepared to do that for your own argument as well.
The best way to win an argument [BBC Future]