Tag Archives: Divergent Thinking

How to Disagree, Win Arguments, and Not Create Enemies.

The web is turning writing into a conversation.

Twenty years ago, writers wrote and readers read. Now, the Internet lets people respond, and increasingly they do: in comment threads, on forums, and in their blog posts.

Many who respond to something disagree with it.

That’s to be expected… Agreeing tends to motivate people less than disagreeing, and when you agree, there’s less to say.

You could expand on something the author said, but he has probably already explored the most interesting implications of that line of thinking. However, when you disagree, you’re entering territory he may not have explored.

The result is there’s a lot more disagreeing going on, especially measured by the word.

That doesn’t mean that people are growing angrier. The structural change in the way we communicate is enough to account for it, but even though it’s not anger that’s driving the increase in disagreement, there’s a danger that the increase in disagreement will make people angrier.

This is especially true online, where it’s easy to say things more abrasive than you’d ever say to someone’s face. If we’re all going to be disagreeing more, we should be careful to do it well.

What does it mean to disagree well?

Most readers can tell the difference between mere name-calling and a carefully reasoned refutation, but it would help to name the intermediate stages.

The Disagreement Hierarchy:


DH0: Name-calling.

This is the lowest form of disagreement, and probably also the most common. We’ve all seen comments like this: “u r a fag!!!!!!!!!!”

Also, it’s important to realize that more articulate name-calling has just as little weight. A comment like “the author is a self-important dilettante”
is really nothing more than a pretentious version of “u r a fag.”

DH1: Ad Hominem.

An ad hominem attack is not quite as weak as mere name-calling. It might actually carry some weight. For example, if a senator wrote an article saying that senators’ salaries should be increased, one could respond: “Of course he would say that. He’s a senator.”

This wouldn’t refute the author’s argument, but it may at least be relevant to the case. It’s still a very weak form of disagreement, though.

If there’s something wrong with the senator’s argument, you should say what it is, strait up. If there isn’t, what difference does it make that he’s a senator?

Saying that an author lacks the authority to write about a topic is a variant of ad hominem (and a particularly useless sort), because good ideas often come from outsiders.

The question is not whether a person has the credentials or authority to speak about a particular topic. The question is whether the author is correct or not.

If his lack of authority caused him to make mistakes, point those mistakes out (do not even refer to his lack of authority — that is irrelevant, only refer to any mistakes). If it didn’t, it’s not a problem.

DH2: Responding to Tone.

The next level up, we start to see responses to the writing, rather than the writer. The lowest form of these is to disagree with the author’s tone. For example: “I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion.”

Though better than attacking the author, himself, this is still a weak form of disagreement. It matters much more whether the author is wrong or right than what his tone is.

Mainly, tone is just so hard to judge. On the internet, judging tone becomes impossible and very dangerous:

Someone who has a chip on their shoulder about some topic might be offended by a tone that to other readers seemed neutral.

So, if the worst thing you can say about something is to criticize its tone, you’re not saying much. Is the author flippant, but correct? Better that than grave and wrong. If the author is incorrect somewhere, say where.

DH3: Contradiction.

In this stage we finally get responses to what was said, rather than how or by whom. The lowest form of response to an argument is simply to state the opposing case, with little or no supporting evidence.

This is often combined with DH2: Attacking Tone statements, as in: “I can’t believe the author dismisses intelligent design in such a cavalier fashion. Intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory.”

Contradiction can sometimes have some weight. Sometimes, merely seeing the opposing case stated explicitly is enough to see that it’s right. However, evidence will always help.

DH4: Counterargument.

At level 4 we reach the first form of convincing disagreement: counterargument. Forms up to this point can usually be ignored as proving nothing. Counterargument might prove something. The problem is, it’s hard to say exactly what

Counterargument is contradiction plus reasoning and/or evidence. When aimed squarely at the original argument, it can be convincing. Unfortunately, it’s common for counterarguments to be aimed at something slightly different.

More often than not, two people arguing passionately about something are actually arguing about two different things. Sometimes they actually agree with one another, but they become so caught up in their squabble that they don’t realize it.

There could be a legitimate reason for arguing against something slightly different from what the original author said: when you feel they missed the heart of the matter. When you do that, however, you should say explicitly that you’re doing it.

DH5: Refutation.

The most convincing form of disagreement is refutation. It’s also the rarest, because it’s the most work. Indeed, the disagreement hierarchy forms a kind of pyramid, in the sense that: the higher you go, the fewer instances you find.

To refute someone, you probably have to quote them. You have to find a “smoking gun,” a passage in whatever you disagree with that you feel is mistaken, and then explain why it’s mistaken. If you can’t find an actual quote to disagree with, you may be arguing with a straw man.

While refutation generally entails quoting, quoting doesn’t necessarily imply refutation. Some writers quote parts of things they disagree with, to give the appearance of legitimate refutation, then follow with a response as low as DH3 or even DH0.

DH6: Refuting the Central Point.

The force of a refutation depends on what you refute. The most powerful form of disagreement is to refute someone’s central point.

Even as high as DH5, we still sometimes see deliberate dishonesty, as when someone picks out minor points of an argument and refutes those. Sometimes the spirit in which this is done makes it more of a sophisticated form of ad hominem than actual refutation:

For example: correcting someone’s grammar, or harping on minor mistakes in names or numbers. Unless the opposing argument actually depends on such things, the only purpose of correcting them is to discredit one’s opponent.

Truly refuting something requires one to refute its central point, or at least one of them. That means one has to commit explicitly to what the central point is.

So, a truly effective refutation would look like:

“The author’s main point seems to be x. As he says: ‘xyz…’ However, this is wrong for the following reasons:

1. Reason 1.
2. Reason 2.
3. Reason 3.”

The quote you point out as mistaken need not be the primary statement of the author’s main point. The quote only needs to be able to refute something that the main point depends upon.

What it Means:

Now, we have a way of classifying forms of disagreement, but what good is it? One thing the disagreement hierarchy doesn’t give us is a way of picking a winner.

DH levels merely describe the form of a statement, not whether it’s correct. A DH6 response could still be completely mistaken.

Although, while DH levels don’t set a lower bound on the convincingness of a reply, they do set an upper bound:

A DH6 response might be unconvincing, but a DH2 or lower response is always unconvincing.

The most obvious advantage of classifying the forms of disagreement is that it will help people to see through intellectually dishonest arguments.

An eloquent speaker or writer can give the impression of vanquishing an opponent, merely by using forceful words. In fact, that is probably the defining quality of a demagogue.

By giving names to the different forms of disagreement, we give critical readers a pin for popping BS balloons.

Most intellectual dishonesty is unintentional.

Someone arguing against the tone of something he disagrees with may believe he’s really saying something. Zooming out and seeing his current position on the disagreement hierarchy may inspire him to try moving up to counterargument or refutation.


The greatest benefit of disagreeing well is not just that it will make conversations better, but that it will make the people who have them happier.

If you study conversations, you find there is a lot more meanness down in DH1 than up in DH6. You don’t have to be mean when you have a real point to make. In fact, you don’t want to. If you have something real to say, being mean actually gets in the way.

If moving up the disagreement hierarchy makes people less mean, that will make most of them happier. Most people don’t really enjoy being mean; they do it because they can’t help it.

Being Divergent in a Team Atmosphere, Without Having to “Walk the Plank”

Does anyone else have the “curse” of explaining an opposing argument so well, your peers think you’re on the “other side” and start attacking you?


Being a Visionary is Not as Easy as it Looks

I’m a natural devil’s advocate, and somebody who constantly thinks of every alternative possibility.

Throughout my professional career, there have been a few situations where me trying to bring up opposing arguments, for improvement of the project / idea, resulted in a team turning on me.

The Visionary / ENTP Personality Type

  • ENTPs love to argue and consider it a sport, sometimes hurting those who don’t. They like proving their points and showing others how impressive they are.
  • They are masters at improvising and are usually good at everything they put their minds too.
  • Interested in almost everything, they become pleased with people who are skilled and talented.
  • Once something they are interested in is no longer a challenge they lose interest and move on.
  • Problem solving and adaptability is their specialty.
  • ENTPs are very judge mental about people, but are surprisingly very accurate on there judgment.
  • While following the rules of the game, they look for all the short cuts and mysteries of it. That is why these people are most likely to bend the rules and cut corners because they despise simple and uninteresting procedure or routines.

  • We Are All Puzzle Pieces

    We must remind ourselves that a majority of other personality types do not think this way. Certain types even crave sticking to consistent, reliable, and trusted methods above anything else.

    For other types of people, our style of thinking shatters the essence of their being. They hate challenging or changing conventional methods. They crave sticking to tradition, and believe it is the cause for what has made them successful, up to this point.

    Most types ask themselves:

    “Why fix something, if it ain’t broke?”

    This is a core belief of what makes these people who they are.

    Visionary types ask themselves a different question:

    “Why stick to what’s working we’ll, when we could be making it much better?”

    This is apart of our core personality, deeply ingrained into the fabric of who we are. We couldn’t stop thinking in this manner if we wanted to.

    Just as “we are who we are,” other people “are who they are,” as well. It’s important to always remember this truth when dealing with others.

    What Matters More: Your Pride, or Bringing the Vision to Life?


    • The goal is not to prove you are the superior type.
    • The goal is to learn how to get your vision across, and eventually believed in.

    The Future is Inevitable, Like it or Not

    The same people who said shaking things up was foolish, will be the same people that end up using and supporting the innovation in the long-term.

    It’s the same as “old people” and technology. They will fight tooth & nail to not try the “new hot thing.” A year later they’ll be in love with it.

    Dealing with Different Types of People

    Learn to Pick and Choose Your Battles Wisely!

    • It’s very easy for us to challenge just about anything, and we get quite a bit of enjoyment from it. Make an effort to resist this urge!
    • Try and stay focused on the most important, crucial points. The things that need to be challenged immediately.
    • Force yourself to withhold your urge to brainstorm about everything.
    • Make an effort to show positive reinforcement for ideas that you immediately agree with.
    • Show at least equal amounts of positive reinforcement, if not more, to the amount of opposition and challenging you cause. This helps prevent people from having the perception that you’re just an argumentative person.
    • When presenting a really important, divergent, outside-of-the-box idea to your team, meet with a few teammates ahead of time, privately, to acquire a bit of support heading in. You’ll already have a few people saying “hey that sounds like a pretty good idea.” It won’t be you against everyone!
    • Include these supporters in your scheme to make them feel apart of it. Make it “our idea.” They will not only agree with you, but will fight for the vision, themselves.

    Summing it All Up!

    As ENTPs, we don’t need “group approval” to think an idea is solid, but most other types do. If you have a few supporters going in, it will be much easier to challenge norms.

    Including others has an added benefit of introducing others into
    your thought process and understanding who you are.

    I’ve found that once you can establish this, once people understand
    the way you think, you can accomplish a lot more without as much friction.

    Unfortunately, sometimes we have to learn to “play the BS game” just enough to establish yourself as the visionary. It may be a little while before this happens.

    “Baby Steps” is the Key!


    A Great Clip from “What About Bob?”

    In this short scene, Bob learns is introduced to the basic concepts of “Baby Steps.”