Why There is Often No Point in Arguing

Facts, alternative facts, and fake news. We live in a time where arguments are everywhere, whether they are political discussions, relationship fights, or high intensity banter between friends. The internet has made it easier than ever to engage in large scale discussion on everything from whether or not to wage war to which Harry Potter character is actually the hero of the story (hint: it’s Hermione).

Armed with the truth, it’s not uncommon to go into these battles guns blazing. There is a popular XKCD comic that describes what it is like to be opinionated on the Internet:

(origin)

Yet we see these same reactions outside of online discourse as well. We get into long, passionate, sometimes angry discussions with our spouse or significant other about the best way to parent. We create heated arguments with our close friends about fashion or sports. We frequently find ourselves trying to convince others of our opinion on some topic of interest.

This is likely a mistake.

Indeed, psychological research has found that the more you try to convince someone that their opinion is wrong, the more it hardens their belief that their opinion is right. Some term this the “backfire effect,” (with another humorous but not safe for work example of this effect in action found at The Oatmeal).

It is this idea that, when faced with opposing views, people tend to dig deeper into their currently held belief.

You Won’t Change Opinions – You Can Only Change Your Behaviors

It is because of the backfire effect that it often makes little sense to invest time and energy into arguing, especially over someone’s opinion. There is often little evidence that can be presented that will change someone’s opinion, and if you really want them to change their mind, arguing with them may cause them to retreat towards their beliefs even further.

What you can change, however, is how you talk to someone else, and what kind of discourse you have. If you listen to the other person’s point of view, and you are supportive of how they feel, you’ll be able to have discussions on important topics without it causing a long term impact on your relationship. If you find that you are feeling too passionate or upset about a discussion, you’ll also be able to move on easier knowing that you were not going to change the person’s mind anyway simply because of how the backfire effect works.

If you find yourself engaging in arguments where you struggle to control your emotions, it helps to remember that neither of you are going to change the other person’s mind, and it may not even be your fault. If these opinions and discussions are hurting your happiness or relationships, consider giving me a call today.