A model to get in fewer arguments and influence more effectively

May 15, 2013 by Joshua
in Awareness, Exercises, Models, Nonjudgment, Tips

[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]

Do you get in more arguments than you’d like? Do you feel like people don’t understand you and you have to explain yourself a lot in these arguments?

I can’t stop all your arguments, but today’s belief and strategy will cut down on them.

It will also increase your ability to influence.

A model to argue less and influence more: No two people completely agree on what’s right, wrong, good, or bad and they resist when you try to get them to agree with you

People intellectually get that others have different values, but they often forget when they want someone to agree with them. They often find conflict when one want to help the other person. Trying to help often deepens the conflict, despite their best intentions.

Some people condemn the belief that morality is not absolute, pejoratively labeling it “moral relativism.” Yet I’ve never found two people who agree on all issues of what is right, wrong, good, bad, or evil. Even people who agree on some tradition or book as the source of what they consider right, wrong, good, bad, or evil still disagree on major points.

People seem comfortable with moral absolutes on issues others agree with them on. They seem to want others to change, but not themselves.

When we lead or even just work in teams, we have to face others’ values and recognize they disagree.


Whatever system you have of right, wrong, good, bad, or evil, nobody seems to mind as long as you keep it to yourself.

So what do you do when you have to communicate your ideas?

An exercise I made up for fun once helped me a lot. Before doing it I thought it was too superficial to make a difference, but it ended up influencing me a lot.

The exercise is simply not to use judgmental language. Why not try it for a week? I started by avoiding the words good, bad, right, wrong, and evil. I later included should, ought to, balance, better, worse, improve, and some other words.

What made a big difference in this exercise for me was finding I could substitute “I agree” and “I disagree” for “right” and “wrong” and “I like” and “I don’t like” for “good” and “bad.”

Judgmental words
Example Non-judgmental words
Right “You’re right.” Agree “I agree with you.”
Wrong “You’re wrong.” Disagree “I disagree with you.”
Good “The President’s policies are good.” Like “I like the President’s policies.”
Bad “The President’s policies are bad.” Don’t like “I don’t like the President’s policies.”

This seemingly small change in language had a few big effects:

  1. I realized communicating opinion communicated values better than communicating judgment.
  2. I got in fewer arguments.
  3. People communicated more openly with me when I used non-judgmental language.
  4. Judgmental words seem to imply absoluteness that opinion doesn’t.
  5. I realized how often people impose their values on each other, often without meaning to or realizing it.

When I use this belief

I use this belief when I find myself imposing my values on others — that is, judging them.

What this belief replaces

This belief replaces judgment with opinion, argument with seeking understanding, imposition with consideration, and push-back with discussion.

Where this belief leads

This belief leads to fewer arguments, greater understanding and empathy, and more effective influence.

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4 responses on “A model to get in fewer arguments and influence more effectively

  1. Pingback: What is morality? » Joshua Spodek

  2. Pingback: New series: Non-authoritarian non-ethics - Joshua Spodek

  3. Pingback: The end of ethics » Joshua Spodek

  4. Pingback: Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours » Joshua Spodek

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