Arguing to Win Versus Arguing to Learn: Top Ten Conflict Tips

I often join in debates in the comment columns of newspapers. In general I do this so that I can learn from people who have different opinions from me. They may not realize it, but the reason I contest what they post is to test it for reasonableness, for the data behind it. So the arguing is part of learning.

And I learned this from my late father who always took the opposite view of anyone he talked to, to see what they and their arguments were made of. It was his way of respecting people. If he didn’t argue with you, then he had no time for you and your ability to think. I thought it might be helpful to summarize one of our Top Ten Conflict Tips on the Differences Between Arguing to Win Versus Arguing to Learn:

  1. Arguing to Win assumes a Zero Sum Game in which my loss is your gain, whereas arguing to learn, assumes that knowledge can be expanded in the process of argument, and knowledge has value that adds to what is at stake, so it may not be a Zero Sum Game
  2. Arguing to Win assumes that winning is important and of course sometimes it is, but probably not as often as we think, given we have a high degree of self righteousness that is often misplaced
  3. Arguing to Win limits our realism as we tend to deny anything that weakens our side of the case, whereas Arguing to Learn seeks to explore the territory thoroughly and doesn’t much care if data supports or undermines the case
  4. Arguing to Win leads to politics-based evidence, whereas Arguing to Learn leads to evidence based politics, which again is more realistic and more creative
  5. Arguing to Learn adopts a fundamentally different stance, using much more open thinking and this may generate all sorts of interesting outcomes for the argument compared with Arguing to Win
  6. Arguing to Win is something many smart people do, using their smarts to wall off their theories from disproof
  7. Arguing to Win also relies heavily on Confirmation Bias: our tendency to see only the evidence that supports our case. 
  8. Arguing to Learn suggests we go looking for data that would disprove our case
  9. Arguing to Learn is an Infinite Game in James P Carse’s sense: we are growing something, our knowledge base
  10. Arguing to Learn means we often admit when are wrong and so can learn from our mistakes, unlike those who Argue to Win who can rarely in my experience, see their errors, let alone learn from them.


About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
This entry was posted in Conflict Processes, PERSONAL CONFLICT RESOLUTION: CREATIVE STRATEGIES, Philosophy of Conflict, The Conflict Model, Top Ten Conflict Tips from Great Thinkers, Uncategorized, Ways to handle conflict and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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