Argumentation

Clients come to designers with a problem that they want to have solved as fast as possible. The designer has to listen carefully and determine what their requirements are. Then he needs to propose a solution that will work for their specific need and explain why it will be the best possible one. Unsurprisingly, it is said that the ability to convince is a large part of being a web designer. This means that the quality of communication is often the determining factor whether the client will come back later.

In order to be convincing, the designer needs to find relevant and valid arguments that support his stance. This may not always be easy when the client has his/her own expectations of how the relationship should work. Finding arguments shouldn’t be an end in itself; they can be used just as part of the informal conversation. When the search for arguments becomes conscious on both sides—which is fairly easy,—the conversation may transition into a verbal fight, which is something we should avoid. There is no need for any of the sides to take over as this will mark the start of a faltering relationship. None of them should feel defeated in any way at the end of the conversation. But we still need to be able to recognize which arguments are susceptible to renegotiation and which are really backed by principles and therefore stable. If we can’t work according to our principles, then it’s probably time to end the relationship. But if both sides are willing to make sacrifices to resolve their disagreement, this may mark the start of a fruitful relationship.

Not every argument is a good one and it may be hard to articulate even a good one in a convincing manner. How do we know then whether we defend our arguments effectively?

In “Writing Spaces: Readings on writing”, Rebecca Jones has published her adaptation of two chapters from the book “Argumentation: Analysis, Evaluation, Presentation”, which I found interesting. It contains ten rules for argumentation, which can be useful in a variety of contexts:

  1. Parties must not prevent each other from putting forward standpoints or casting doubt on the standpoints. (the freedom rule)
  2. A party who puts forward a standpoint is obliged to defend it if asked to do so. (the burden-of-proof rule)
  3. A party’s attack on a standpoint must relate to the standpoint that has indeed been advanced by the other party. (the standpoint rule)
  4. A party may defend his or her standpoint only by advancing argumentation related to that standpoint. (the relevance rule)
  5. A party may not falsely present something as a premise that has been left unexpressed by the other party or deny a premise that he or she has left implicit. (the unexpected premise rule)
  6. No party may falsely present a premise as an accepted starting point or deny a premise representing an accepted starting point. (the starting point rule)
  7. A standpoint may not be regarded as conclusively defended if the defense does not take place by means of an appropriate argument scheme that is correctly applied. (the argument scheme rule)
  8. The reasoning in the argumentation must be logically valid or must be capable of being made valid by making explicit one or more unexpressed premises. (the validity rule)
  9. A failed defense of a standpoint must result in the protagonist retracting the standpoint, and a successful defense of a standpoint must result in the antagonist retracting his or her doubts. (the closure rule)
  10. Parties must not use any formulations that are insufficiently clear or confusingly ambiguous, and they must interpret the formulations of the other party as carefully and accurately as possible. (the usage rule)

In a conversation, it is a good idea to be able to notice when and explain why an expression violates one of these rules. Another good practice is to have at least three evidences for every single claim we make as it has been proven that a single argument is rarely enough to make a point. There’s always room to improve how we respond to clients and learning more about the quality of our arguments can only help us.

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