Argumentation in Negotiations: 18 Common Mistakes

Argumentation in Negotiations: 18 Common Mistakes

Let’s use real life examples to analyse main mistakes in argumentation. You are able to apply this knowledge by transferring it to your own experience and improve usual approach to building communication with team members.

It is obvious we resist other people’s position on some aspects.

Partially it happens because they use low quality arguments. Let me remind you that an argument is a reasoning, a fact or an example aimed at proving or justifying a statement.

There are two main types of arguments: rhetorical and philosophical. A rhetorical argument is used to convince someone, and a philosophical argument is used to reveal a thought. A rhetorical argument appeals to emotions, whilea philosophical argument relies on logic and remains valid even in isolation from the personality of the speaker, for example, if it is written down.

In order to evaluate a statement, you need to check it for compliance with five criteria:

  • Clarity of the argument
  • Existence of an argument
  • Relevance of the argument (its relevance to the case)
  • Evaluation of the argument according to the criterion of strength — weakness
  • Evaluation of the argument by the criterion of uniqueness — multiplicity
  • The argument should contain any point of view, deepen and clarify it. An argument can be a fact ("because the Earth is round") or a logical sequence ("if A, then B"). It can have a subjective or objective form, that is, to explain personal choice or claim to define reality
  • Arguments are of various types: moral, practical, psychological, intellectual, logical, factual, and so on. Let’s look at a few examples.

A Question:

Should you help the weak?

Moral argument:

Yes, because it is moral to take care of the welfare of society.

Practical argument:

No, I’ll have to waste time instead of minding my own business.

Psychological argument:

— No, because I have no desire at all.

Intelligent Argument:

— Yes, because my priority is research of those in need and analysis of the situation in the country.

Boolean argument:

— No, because this action is meaningless, you can’t help everyone anyway.

Fact based argument:

— No, because the more I give alms, the more beggars become.

I suggest you analyse the 18 most common mistakes in argumentation. Knowing them, you can easily distinguish a convincing argument from an unproven one.

1. Lack of argument

A statement includes a repetition of the concepts contained in the question or their reformulation.


Should I help someone who doesn’t want my help?

No, because I don’t help people who don’t want my help.

2. An irrelevant argument

An argument that contains meanings not related to the proposed statement. There is no connection between an argument and the topic it supports.


— Can we expand the territory of the plant?

— No, this cannot be done, the number of allergic children has increased catastrophically.

Several types of arguments not relevant to the problem:

3. Emotional Argument

I can’t wear this dress! I wear it all the time!

You have a full wardrobe!

The fact that the wardrobe is full has nothing to do with the problem — the speaker does not want to wear this particul ardress.

5. The reverse causality argument

Why did you hit your brother?

"Because then he hit me too."

The unforeseen consequence of an action cannot justify that action, except in those moments when the consequence is known in advance.

6. Undifferentiated argument

This is an argument that can be used both to justify choosing option A and to justify choosing option B.

Is it possible to deceive the leader?

No, we are human! And we work together.

With the same success, the answer to the question may be: "Yes, we are people!" That is, the argument "We are human beings" is equally suitable for answering both "yes" and "no".

7. Incomplete argument

This type of argument is suitable as evidence, but needs further clarification. The end of the argument is implied.

Is a person obligated to tell the truth if the one with whom he speaks is ill?

"No, because it might injure him and hurt him."

The statement contains an argument, but remains too general. It should, for example, be added that a person is weak enedor more sensitive due to illness.

Is the fact that it’s written in books enough reason to believe something?

— Yes, if it is written in scientific books.

For the argument to be complete, it is necessary to explain why "scientific" is more reliable. For example, because it has been proven by experiments.

8. Controversial Argument

This is an argument whose elements are in conflict with each other. Some elements support the original assumption, others, on the contrary, refute it. The most common form of contradictory argument is the classic "yes, but…". There is nothing that supports "yes", while the argument following the "but" refutes the original positive answer.

Is it necessary to uphold freedom of opinion?

Everyone has the right to think what they want. But there are countries where you can go to jail if your thoughts are the opposite of what the government wants.

The author does not argue his original answer, but shows that this idea is not always applicable. He uses the fact as a counter argument to his own assumption, which proves nothing and causes confusion.

9. Change of meaning

An argument whose content diverges from the original assumption. An indirect connection or too great a discrepancy renders this argument inadequate.

Is a person obligated to tell the truth when he is hungry?

Yes, because there is nothing to be ashamed of in hunger. The statement answers the question, "Can a person tell the truth when he is hungry?" rather than the question, "Is a person obligated to tell the truth when he is hungry?" Therefore, the problem is not solved.

10. False Argument

It is usually a jumble of words, sometimes having factual or rhetorical value, and sometimes not. For example, a teacher says not to interrupt others, but she often interrupts students herself. Does she have more right to interrupt than we do?

— No, because students have to raise their hand to speak.

The fact that students have to raise their hand does not at all prove that the teacher has the right or not the right to interrupt. Lack of legitimacy proves nothing.

11. Tautology

A suggestion that attempts to justify an answer or idea by repeating it exactly or using different words.

Is it always necessary to be polite?

Yes, it’s a matter of courtesy.

One cannot justify the obligation to always be polite with politeness — this is a reformulation of the original "yes" answer using elements of the question.

— Do you remain yourself if you change culture?

— Yes, because the change of culture does not change anything in you.

The question is reformulated into a complete sentence, but no argument is given.

12. Rejection of the problem

The answer or argument does not support the problem, but explicitly or implicitly expresses disagreement with the problem.

Do you remain yourself if you change jobs?

No, because I don’t have it.

Rejection of a hypothetical question with a personal example. In this case, the argument deviates from the topic.

13. Interrogative argument

An interrogative argument is usually used to refer the problem to the original speaker. Such an argument is at best toovague, and at worst completely irrelevant.

Should I help a person who does not help others?

"No, since why should I bother helping an egoist? The question indirectly states the statement, shows the obvious answer.

14. Relativity Argument

The use of relative expressions "it depends", "not necessarily", "not really", etc., without the presence of any other information that would clarify and understand the causes and consequences of this relativism. Such vague concepts are periodically used inappropriately as an answer or argument. Often used to not answer a question.

Is a person obligated to tell the truth after he has lied?

— No, it all depends on the reason for the lie.

It can be understood that the obligation to tell the truth or to lie depends on the reason for lying. But, in order to givemeaning to this relativity, it is necessary to explain what motives or examples will oblige us to tell or not to tell the truth.

15. Persuasion Argument

A sentence that speaks of a subjective state without offering any proof. It is usually an expression of certainty or doubt. This type of argument is more related to rhetoric, as it is aimed at persuading another.

Who took my pen?

— It was Andrei, I’m sure it wasn’t him.

In this case, the speaker is trying to justify the statement with the help of persuasion. This type of argument usually beginswith the words: "I believe that …", "I swear that …", "I assure you that …", "I am sure that …". Or it is accompanied byobjective expressions: "Definitely that…" "It is exactly that…". In such arguments, adverbs of persuasion can be found: honestly, frankly, in fact, true. All these concepts have rhetorical value, do not provide any evidence.

16. Illogical Argument

The construction of such an argument violates the elementary laws of logic.

Types of illogical arguments: opposite argument; irrational argument; logical inversion; defensive reaction. How do youknow that Adrian is at home?

Because he’s not at school.

The fact that Adrian is not at school does not necessarily mean that he is at home. He may be somewhere else.

17. False foundation

The statement is treated as an indisputable general principle, which is considered obvious. The use of such an argumentindicates prejudice or lack of reflection (associated with more than one meaning).

Should you obey your parents?

Yes, because it makes more sense.

We don’t know what "more sense" means here. The statement seems "rational" but says nothing.

18. Weak Argument

A statement has the form and value of an argument. However, it is less meaningful than the statement that defends. Theweakness of the argument may entail a problem of proportion or probability, an abuse of circumstance. A weak argumenthas a tendency not to get to the bottom of things.

Types of weak arguments:

an argument based on the past; free hypothesis; generalization; habit argument; alibi circumstances; alibi using another;exaggerated argument; minimalist argument; authoritarian argument; alibi quantity; abuse of justification; superstitiousargument. — Is the person good?

Yes, my family members help each other.

You can’t judge all people based on the behavior of a few family members. This may be called an unwarrantedgeneralization.

19. Convoluted Argument

Is it permissible to tell a lie in order to achieve something?

— This is cowardice. This may be correct, since the intention is good.

Cowardice has a negative connotation and we cannot use this concept to prove legitimacy. The next sentence states that"the intention is good" but does not say what its "positivity" is. We have here two unfinished ideas that contradict eachother.

How to train critical thinking and make informed decisions?

It’s easier to start mindfulness training by exploring and strengthening the argument. Arguments are easier to formalize, capture, and analyze than other thought processes. It can be practiced alone or with someone. Agree to ask differentquestions, provide answers, and practice finding strong arguments. I recommend to fix everything on paper, do not do itby ear. Without a special skill, the "memory buffer" will still not hold information for a long time. Write down thequestion, answer, and arguments. And then, to avoid the usual "getting personal," you can pretend that the arguments arenot yours and evaluate them impartially.

For example:

— I didn’t write it. Our reader sent us this answer. What weaknesses can we find here?

And in this way, examine the argument from a strong-weak point of view. Then connect the interpretation process:

— Does that mean? Then categorization, then conceptualization:

Is there a confusion here? Is there a clear division? What is the point? What is the main idea? Further problematization: -What is the problem?

And then:

— What are we going to do about it? How can we solve this?

Often we can notice that the solution to problems after such a process is different, and sometimes significantly, from thedecisions that we made unconsciously, "on the machine".

The next critical thinking exercise is to take a paragraph from any piece of fiction, read it and ask yourself what is themain concept? Write it out. If you will be doing this in groups, which is always more effective, then ask a few participantsto take the same paragraph and offer their hypothesis about the main concept. Discuss this with each other and see howyou perceive the other person’s argument and your own. At the beginning of the practice, it is better to resort to the help ofan external observer. When this skill develops, you can do it yourself.