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Do Not Argue to Prove that You are Right, Argue to Convince Others to Follow You

This is a lesson that applies to your game table and to life in general.

I recently watched the documentary Flock of Dodos: The Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus [1]. The filmmaker is an evolutionary biologist who takes a hard look at the debate behind teaching evolution versus intelligent design, but who also looks at the approach that proponents of both methods use in making their arguments.

In one scene a scientist is loudly proclaiming “I have the floor! I have the floor!” during a discussion of evolution versus intelligent design. He refuses to let another person speak, and he is completely oblivious to how his declaration of having the floor is both rude and belittling to others.

You might think that the scientist was addressing his opponents in this debate at some conference. He wasn’t. He was addressing his fellow scientists, who were all on his side of the debate. They were also his personal friends.

Even worse, his declaration of “having the floor” takes place in the middle of a friendly poker game. The filmmaker makes a point that many of the people that he met who were arguing for intelligent design were charming and nice people, and far too often some of the scientists did not appear as such.

Forget who is right in regards to what should be taught in our public schools. I have a very strong opinion on that matter, but this is not the place for it. The reason that I am describing this scene to you is because the intelligent design proponents in the film were trying to convince people whereas the evolution proponents were trying to prove who was right.

In other words, being right is not enough. You still have to convince someone to do that which you believe is right.

I have seen an argument break out at many a gaming table, game shop, email group, and forum where one or more of the participants were obviously more concerned with proving that they were right than anything else. The end result is usually the same: Even when that person “wins” he or she loses.

I am not suggesting that people should follow someone who is wrong. I am stating that people will follow a person who is wrong who treats them nicely over a person who is right and treats them poorly. We’re not Vulcans [2]. Sound logic is not enough to lead people with. Which is why people with charisma are often leaders [3] even when they might be wrong in their arguments.

How does this apply to you as the GM? When a argument breaks out at your game’s table take a moment to step back and assess the situation. Call a break from the game and make a declaration that everyone at the table are friends and should treat each other as friends would.

Then treat the argument as an interruption to the game and not part of the game itself. Ask all of the participants if the group can shelve the argument for later by compromising with a temporary solution for now that you as the GM declare. If the participants accept make it clear that you will address their concerns and hear each of them out after the game.

If the participants refuse set a time limit of 15 minutes for the arguing and moderate the argument. Do not make the mistake of many an Internet forum by saying “There can be no arguing here!” That will just bury the tension for a short while. You want the issue resolved, not hidden.

The entire time be polite and courteous in how you treat others. Never raise your voice, nor use aggressive body language. Stay calm and cool no matter how anyone else reacts. Forget right. Forget wrong. Calm the nerves of the participants, and convince everyone to get back to the game. If you can calm people down they often will agree to do whatever is the most logical thing.

Last thing to consider: If you are the person who is making the argument and you begin to become obsessed with showing others how right you are go to the bathroom. You are losing sight of what being a GM is all about. Get away from your players and get your head back in the game – literally. You are not there to show others that you are right. You are there to lead your group in a fun game.

Agree? Disagree? Let’s argue by leaving some comments below, but let’s do it politely and with respect in a way that brings out the best in each of us.

11 Comments (Open | Close)

11 Comments To "Do Not Argue to Prove that You are Right, Argue to Convince Others to Follow You"

#1 Comment By XonImmortal On August 24, 2011 @ 4:15 am

Damned right!

I had a gaming buddy who started every discussion with me with the assumption that I was stupid, uninformed, and never knew what I was talking about, even if I could prove categorically that each of those assumptions was incorrect. Needless to say, he is an ex-buddy.

A phrase I heard often way back in the day was “Would you rather be right or happy?” Change this to “Would you rather be right or have fun?”

If you want to be right, go home. Lock yourself in a room. Congratulations, nobody there disagrees with you. You’re right!

If you want to have fun… try listening, rather than yelling at people. Most of the time, you will find that what they are saying is not contradictory to what you are saying: neither of you are communicating very well, and you’re talking about two different things entirely.

It’s like the argument one night, where one person was protesting the GM’s damage roll for a fall. Another person flips to a page in the DMG and starts reading off figures. A fight breaks out. Then you find out one person is going by fall damage, and the other is reading off the damage for a spear trap (which it wasn’t anyway).

Most arguments can be solved by both people shutting up and listening. But how often does that happen at the table?

#2 Comment By Mutak On August 24, 2011 @ 7:50 am

Even worse is when someone completely loses sight of wrong or right and only cares about winning the argument or convincing others to side with them. That’s when things really get ugly.

#3 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 24, 2011 @ 7:53 am

[4] – I agree that listening is essential to keeping an argument civilized, and to eventually resolve the dispute. But I’m going to disagree with the language of “Most arguments can be solved by both people shutting up and listening.” I am probably being too literal in my interpretation of that statement, but it struck me as wrong.

People should not “shut up” when there is an argument. They should wait there turn to speak. I think that works of fiction have taught people that all arguments take place when two people yell at and interrupt each other, but that is not how an argument needs to take place. Treat the argument like a debate, and moderate it. Each person has the chance to speak, and to address their opponent after their opponent has spoken. Be courteous and respectful to your opponent. Try to make both a logical and an emotional appeal to the other side. Do no perceive the opposition as the enemy, but as an asset that you want to turn to your side of the issue.

“Shutting up” just results in buried anger and resentment. Speak your mind, but do not insult your opponent.

#4 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 24, 2011 @ 7:54 am

[5] – Great point. Arguing for the “glory” of winning the argument usually results in tragedy instead.

#5 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On August 24, 2011 @ 9:57 am

An example: I watched the owner of an outdoors gear shop argue with a customer over whether or not gore-tex should be used in a shoe. The gear shop sold boots with and without the gore-tex liner. The owner “won” the argument when the customer left the store to purchase his $300 boots elsewhere.

I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere… 😉

#6 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 24, 2011 @ 10:56 am

[6] – That is a a perfect example of how winning the argument of the moment is losing in the long run. Thank you for sharing that here!

#7 Comment By CalebTGordan On August 24, 2011 @ 4:21 pm

I have a huge amount of experience and training when it comes to dealing with people. I agree with what was suggested in how to deal with the argument situations, but I want to add a few suggestions of my own.

– Do more listening then arguing. Often times people will start to become aggressive simply because they don’t feel like they are being listened to. By listening, keeping eye contact, nodding, the other side will feel more at ease about what you have to say because you listened to them.

-Rephrase what was said and ask if you understood correctly. This helps you listen more, and it also helps the person learn if they are effectively communicating their point.

-Ask questions as often as you can. Ask leading questions, and try to help the person come to your conclusion on their own. Also ask questions about what you have said to make sure you are communicating properly. If they answer the questions in a way that suggests they missed the point, don’t take it personally, ask more questions to find out why.

-Always be open to the idea that you could be wrong. You very well might be. If the person you are talking to introduces you to new information then verbalize that you haven’t heard or considered it before. Saying such out loud not only tells them that you are listening, but it will start you thinking about it. Who knows, you might learn something new!

– “Never insist on the right of way.” A phrase my father taught me while I was learning to drive has come in handy in arguments. If someone wants to talk and not listen, let them. Listen to them, be calm, be friendly. At some point, they will either stop talking. It might be because you had to leave to go home, but most often they stop because they have nothing more to say. I once did nothing but listen and it became clear the man was mentally unstable. The conversation ended when he broke down crying and ran into his home.

– If you have done all the talking, your doing it wrong. I have heard of business deals ending badly because one side just kept talking during negotiations and the other side was too polite to interrupt them.

– Agree to disagree before you lose a friend. Most of the time when I can’t agree with someone, I tell them I need more information and that I will go and do more investigation on the issue. I will then do just that. What the person hears is, “I will go and prove to myself that you are right.” Most of the time when I go and study more on the topic, I will find that I was only partly right. Rarely do I learn that I was completely right.

If you do find out that the other person was wrong, don’t rub it in. Politely show them what you have found and ask them if that changes their mind on the topic. If it does not, then be polite and let the other person continue to believe what they want to believe.

My last piece of advice is on language and vocabulary. Be polite, calm, and non threatening. Use more “I” phrases and less “You” phrases. Do not ever assume that someone uses your vocabulary, or that certain key words mean the same thing to both you and the other person.

There are people out there who will always be right. You could be the best people person in the world and those people will argue vehemently with you over the color of the sky. Don’t take it personally and laugh it off when you are away from them.

#8 Comment By Patrick Benson On August 24, 2011 @ 4:39 pm

[7] – Thank you for an excellent contribution to this article! What I wrote is intended to get the game moving again quickly, but what you have added is very valuable indeed. It definitely applies to any situation where you find yourself in a social conflict.

#9 Comment By GiacomoArt On September 12, 2011 @ 8:47 am

The last time my older brother and I played an RPG together, it broke up with him arguing passionately for his inalienable right to be constantly rude to every other player at the table, including both our wives (“It’s called role-playing!”). He wouldn’t entertain the notion that there could be another way of doing things, and that ended the entire game, because we’d been playing in his basement.

That was over fifteen years ago; he never backed down, he never apologized, and he never expressed regret that the group had fallen apart. He died this summer, wondering why all his friends had drifted away. His funeral was well attended, but mostly by people eager to tell me what wonderful parents I have — “nicest people in the world” — and console them for their loss. Any real discussion of my brother’s life and virtues was conspicuously absent. But in the end, I’m sure he was just glad he’d been right.

#10 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 13, 2011 @ 8:23 am

[8] – You have my sympathies for your loss. It is unfortunate that your example is not that rare. I know others who did similar things and forfeited a lot of good things (friends and family) in order to be “right”.

#11 Comment By jEAN On October 21, 2017 @ 2:37 am

People who routinely resort to arguing, are not trying to prove to others that they are right. They are proving it to themselves. Being argumentative usually provokes the exact same attitude in others, which is then (falsely) used to justify the correctness of the provoker’s point of view.

A confident person with high self-esteem will rarely feel uncomfortable when confronted with an opposing idea. He or she may feel curious or challenged, but not on a personal level. It was his or her opinion that was challenged, not the ego. But a person who lacks confidence will immediately feel attacked personally whenever someone disagrees. For such a person, being right is a matter of self-preservation.

This is why I think that, when dealing with argumentative people, it is very important to make sure they realize you appreciate them for who they are (if that’s the case), but it does not necessarily mean you agree with everything they say. Make sure they feel you’re still on their side, while perhaps disagreeing with what they say. CalebTGordan already gave some valuable suggestions on how to do this.