The Art of Discussion

Last updated 07/15/09

Have you ever been in a discussion and the other person ignores a valid point you have made? Or partway through you realize the subject has somehow changed? Or a nit-picky detail or word suddenly becomes the focus point? The following is how I explain people’s discussion techniques. Keep in mind that these are the extremes. In reality, there is a little of all three of these types in each of us.

1. The Truth Seeker

This person looks for a solution, a compromise. In short, they look for the truth. They are not interested in who is right, but rather what is right. Because of this, they will readily recognize a valid point made by someone, even if that point seems to lead in a direction other than what they originally thought. However, if taken too far, this attitude can lead to insistence that a person acknowledge a point, even if it is insignificant. But this negative symptom is more commonly a result of the next two types, especially the third.

2. The Goal Seeker

This type has a preconceived idea of what they want to be the result of the discussion. They direct all their arguments towards that goal. The only things they hear from the other side are things that they can either use to discount the opposing view, or things where the opposition seems to have made a concession. For this reason, if the opposition makes a valid point, but that point cannot be used to their advantage, it may be ignored. This is not a conscious thought, but simply because they are preoccupied with reaching their goal.

3. The Victory Seeker

The last group does not really have (or at least not care about) a particular goal in mind, they simply want the outcome to be a "Win". At the end of the discussion they want to feel like they got the upper hand. That they have proved they are better than the other person. This person may simply change the subject if they are loosing ground. When in an argument with this type, you may find yourself defending the use of a particular word or phrase, and wonder why this insignificant detail has somehow become so important.


We should strive to be Type One Truth Seekers. But beware getting too sanctimonious or too nit-picky. Try to understand why the person may be insisting that you acknowledge an insignificant point. Make sure you make it clear that while you acknowledge that point, you don't think it furthers the discussion. Be sure to keep on the subject. Re-state the subject as often as necessary to keep on track. If you find yourself being irritated with the other person, slow down and listen MORE carefully. When I argue, I try to recognize when I am slipping into a Goal or Victory seeker attitude and correct myself. It's important that I acknowledge this to the person I am talking with. To actively say "I'm sorry, my last remark was not fair. I was responding negatively to what you were saying overall and that caused me to prematurely disagree with your last statement. In reality the point you made about (their quote here) was correct." Quoting them is important because that shows them you really did listen.

If you recognize these traits in others, you can make better decisions on how to discuss issues, and better decisions about when to just walk away.

If you recognize these traits in yourself, you can become a much better conversationalist.


38 Ways to Win an Argument A tongue-in-cheek list of how to win an argument using all the wrong techniques. Supposedly written by Arthur Schopenhauer, but actually someones humorous adaption of what he pointed out as all the wrong ways.

The Art of Controversy The actual paper written by Arthur Schopenhauer.