The psychological principles of the dispute

Starting to consider the psychology of a dispute, we note that everything stated below will apply to polemics, discussion, dispute, debate. In other words, we will talk about the psychology of interaction between interlocutors when resolving a contradiction in the process of thinking. The mechanism of this interaction is the same, only the intensity of passions and collisions of souls are different.

Participants in the discussion (or research) of a problem can move from one state of interaction to another depending on the intensity of passions and changes in approaches. A constructive approach is manifested in the desire to exchange views, to talk, to find an acceptable solution. A destructive approach often results in acute forms of communication: dispute, polemics.

The psychological behavior of partners depends on many factors: knowledge of the principles of the dispute, the motives of the interlocutors, personal characteristics, characters and compliance with ethical rules.

Since the interlocutors in an explicit or implicit form may show signs of different approaches, the participants need to be guided by the psychological principles of the dispute. The latter determine the norms of interaction between the parties, ethical rules and regulate the activities of the parties to the dispute, regardless of their goals.

What are the psychological principles of the dispute?

This is the principle of equal security; the principle of decentral orientation and the principle of adequacy (correspondence) of what is perceived to what is said.

How are they characterized?

The principle of equal security states: do not cause psychological or other harm to any of the parties to the dispute; in a dispute, do not do what you yourself will not be happy about. The principle applies to many psychological factors of an individual, but primarily to self-esteem. It prohibits offensive, degrading attacks against the person of the interlocutor, no matter what thoughts and ideas he defends. If someone violates this principle, then there is a substitution of the goal (achievement of the truth), the dispute goes off the rails of the logic of the development of thought and a confrontation of ambitions begins. Being the object of ridicule, a person often blindly and mercilessly avenges humiliation.

The principle of equal security, if guided by both parties, presupposes a constructive approach to resolving the dispute.

Another principle – the principle of decentral orientation – prescribes: be able to analyze a situation or problem from the point of view of another person, look at yourself and others based on the interests of the case, and not from personal goals. In short, the credo is this: do not harm the cause.

The principle presupposes helping each other and solving the problem by joint efforts, searching for an option that suits everyone. If a similar focus is achieved in a dispute, then the interlocutors can not only rise above personal interests, but also make a breakthrough through external and internal limitations, in particular through psychological barriers that prevent them from seeing the truth or a solution that is optimal.

Decentric focus develops in the context of alternatives, that is, when considering several points of view. Such thinking is improved in frequent communication with people who know how to defend their views with a constructive approach to solving the problem.

However, orientation as a set of stable motives of activity relatively independent of the situation can also be egocentric. In this case, the person is guided by the motives of his own well-being, the desire for prestige, victory in an argument, and selfish goals. Interlocutors with an egocentric orientation are usually most busy with their own problems and are not interested in the problems of others; rush to conclusions and assumptions; try to impose their opinion on others; deprive other participants in the dispute of a sense of freedom; they are not guided in the situation when it is necessary to speak, and when to be silent and listen; their behavior is not friendly.

The credo of the egocentric: “The focus is on my point of view, my theory, but not the point of view of the enemy.” In a dispute, he divides people into useful, helping him to defend his opinion, and harmful, hindering his success. Such a person is able to “put in place”, scold, pull, curse, humiliate, offend an opponent. When nothing else succeeds, the egocentric portrays incomprehensibility, bitter resentment. The sincerity of his indignation can confuse the interlocutor.

A person with an egocentric orientation is more likely than others to have a destructive approach to an argument.

The third principle is also important – the principle of the adequacy of what is perceived to what is said. It says: do not harm thought by intentionally or unintentionally distorting what was said (heard).

For this principle to serve the disputants, the most accurate perception of the meaning of what is heard is necessary. We must strive for simplicity and accuracy of statements. If the phrases are incomprehensible, then attention fades, interest in the interlocutor’s speech is lost. And when interest persists, the sense of tact restrains the listener’s desire to clarify the meaning of what has been said, and one has to complete the understanding according to his ideas. In this there is always a hidden opportunity to reflect in the mind not exactly what the opponent had in mind. As a result, a semantic barrier arises – a discrepancy between what was perceived and what was heard.

There may also be psychological barriers to understanding the speaker’s speech accurately. They are associated with personality traits, her mental states or reactions that prevent understanding or acceptance of the adequate meaning of the statement, the point of view of the opponent. These can be manifestations of excessive confidence of the speaker, aplomb, ambition, disregard for other opinions, narcissism, envy, hostility, etc.

The principle obliges the parties to the dispute to take into account the opponent’s ability to accurately capture the meaning of the chains of reasoning and to make the material accessible without overloading or simplifying the presentation to the detriment of the depth of thought.

In addition, it is necessary to take into account the inertness of thinking inherent in many of us, outdated ideas and views of the past, turning into dogmas and cliches. New scientific truths are always paradoxical, if we judge on the basis of everyday consciousness, but a person is reluctant to throw off the blinders of the usual, justified experience.

Not all of us have systemic thinking, that is, we are unable to consider an object as a system included in many connections with other subsystems. For one, the subject of speech seems to be highlighted by many searchlights, while for another, due to the narrowness of his own knowledge, only a spot is seen on the object of knowledge. Partial, unsystematic knowledge gives rise to doubts where everything is clear to the other to the smallest detail. This is how semantic barriers arise. People trample on such a fence or endlessly fall into one or another hole, visible to one and invisible to another. As a result, a pleasant delusion: “What I saw and heard is everything that can be seen and heard in this statement.”

The conviction of the infallibility of one’s own opinion in a dispute leads to a useless skirmish, as a result of which the subject of disagreement remains on the sidelines, and the disputants defend their positions even more firmly, considering the enemy wrong.

To implement the third principle, you must learn to listen to each other. What is the manifestation of inability to listen to the interlocutor and, as a result, inadequate understanding of him?

  • We do not know how to restrain our desire to express a hasty opinion;
  • we is in a hurry to refute the enemy, without thoroughly delving into his reasoning;
  • we interrupt him, although he has not finished arguing, and then we find ourselves in a stupid position;
  • cling to the insignificant and eventually get tired before we get to the main thing;
  • we are distracted by something in the speaker’s appearance, by the shortcomings of his speech and we lose sight of the essence of his thoughts;
  • without listening to the end, we are preparing to fend off hints of our ignorance;
  • we do not take into account the motives of the enemy, prompting him to resist our view of the problem;
  • we are confident that our knowledge is sufficient to defend our position;
  • having believed that the truth is on our side, we pre-set ourselves to disagree with the statements of the enemy.
  • All this interferes with mutual understanding and adequate perception of what was said.

Dispute types

Disputes are different. Experts distinguish three types: apodictic, eristic and sophistic.

The type of dispute depends on the goal, which, like the law, determines the method and means of achieving it and which it must achieve.

If the goal of the interlocutor is the search for truth, then he is leading an apodictic (reliable, based on the formal laws of thinking and the rules of inference) dispute. If the opponent’s goal is to convince, to persuade him to his opinion, then he is leading an eristic (or, as it is also called, dialectical, based on all the laws of dialectics) dispute. If the goal of the opponent is to win in any way, then this dispute is called sophistic (based on verbal tricks that are misleading).

The dispute involves at least two (or two parties), and the combination of their behavior may be different. Here are just a few options.

  • The first strives for the truth (apodictic controversy).
  • The second is also (apodictic dispute).
  • The first strives for the truth (apodictic controversy).
  • The second is to convince (eristic dispute).
  • The first strives for the truth (apodictic controversy).
  • The second – to victory (sophistic dispute).
  • The first seeks to convince (eristic dispute).
  • The second is to win (sophistic argument).
  • Both seek to convince each other (eristic dispute).
  • Both seek to defeat each other (sophistic dispute).

In order not to drown in the description of the options for the interaction of the disputants, we will give a one-sided description of the types of dispute. Why one-sided?

The palette of any option includes various means inherent in the respective types of dispute, and a combination of constructive and destructive approaches. It is difficult to give a name to a dispute in which one strives for the truth, the other is trying to persuade opponents to his opinion, and the third is to defeat them in any way. Everyone has different goals and means to achieve them.

What we assume is, as it were, a characteristic of the movements of the pieces on the chessboard. The knight moves in its own way, the queen moves in its own way, the bishop moves too. In a chess game there are already precisely calculated games with names and possible outcomes. There are thousands of them. But if we imagine that chess pieces are alive, possessing a psyche (soul), all human passions, then any game would turn out to be unpredictable. If chess pieces have severe limitations, people do not.

Thus, one must immediately adjust oneself in a dispute to the most unforeseen manifestations of the mind and feelings of the interlocutors. A person prepared for an argument should be able to play his part, improvising under the conditions of the improvisation of others, not knocking over the thought, but picking it up, merging into the melody of another opponent, feeling the beat of the rhythm and adhering to the general theme. In other words, in a dispute, as in Dixieland, the performers are virtuosos of thinking: the dialectician leads the party to the truth, the orator inclines everyone to like-mindedness, the sophist sees his goal only in victory, but the theme sounds.

However, a good musician may not be able to play in Dixieland, and an intelligent, educated person may feel completely unfit to argue. Reading further on the description of the three types of dispute, you will understand why this happens.

Apodictic dispute. It assumes the exact formulation of the thesis, the presence of the main argument (a reliable statement – the big premise from which the chain of inferences begins), the absence of contradictions in reasoning, the reliability and sufficiency of arguments. In this case, inferences will be built according to the figures of the syllogism – a form of thinking in which the constituent parts are a large premise, a smaller premise, a logical connection (following) and a conclusion.

Analyze the reasoning: an apodictic argument arises when a problem is discovered. Thinking people are always faced with different approaches to solving problems. It follows from this that the apodictic dispute arises among thinking people.

In this reasoning, the first phrase is a larger premise, an unquestionable statement. The second phrase is a lesser premise. How does our brain work? In more and less premises, he looks for a term common to general phrases (in the example, this is the word “problem”). If the extreme members of the sentences are equal, the brain equates (connects) the remaining semantic parts (“apodictic dispute” and “thinking people”) and forms a new phrase (statement) from them. It is a conclusion and is called a conclusion. If the premises are recognized as true and the rules of inference relating to them are observed, then the conclusion must necessarily be true (reliable). This scheme for constructing speech, which is called the figure of the syllogism, contains the process of comprehending the truth in verbal reasoning.

If, after the previous reasoning, add a new one: “Andreev is considered a thinking and critically thinking head of our institute,” then the brain will deduce the following judgment: “Andreev prefers to conduct an apodictic argument.” And so the chain of reasoning can be pulled to the phrase that we substantiate as a true statement.

With formal observance of the laws of thinking and the rules of inference, reason will lead us to the truth through inferences, which are called apodictic.

The credo of the participant in such a dispute: “Plato is my friend, but the truth is dearer.”

This type of dispute requires precise (scientific) definitions of concepts, proven scientific positions as large premises, established facts, clearly formulated problems, reliable arguments and an understanding of the essence of disagreements (controversial issue). In syllogisms, as K. L. Zelinsky noted, “in the movement of thought along the rails of logic there is that compulsion of inference that captivates every scientist and paralyzes the imagination …

All this is a rail transport of thought, which will take you to the truth as the final destination “(quoted from the book: Pavlov K. G. Psychology of the dispute. Vladivostok, 1988. S. 139, 140).

What is the psychological aspect of an apodictic dispute, when both participants have one and the same goal – to find the truth, or at least to get closer to it? Opponents manifest themselves psychologically symmetrically, that is, they carry out mutual verification of the reliability of the thesis (proponent) and antithesis (opponent). At the same time, deeply respecting each other, they give admiring assessments of the interlocutor’s judgments, encourage each other to clarify and correct formulations, interpretations, definitions, show patience, seek to clarify the views of the opponent, seek and notice what the opponent is right about. All their activities are aimed at mutual correction of points of view. They are arguing like two firemen at a hand pump – opposing each other, they get a stream of water. The analogy with people sawing a tree trunk with a two-handed saw is even clearer.

Is the aggravation of the apodictic dispute possible? Yes, when the disputants put different meanings into the same thesis; they perceive the concepts used in reasoning differently, or argue not on the merits of the subject of disagreement.

To conduct an apodictic dispute, it is necessary to develop the following qualities:

  • competence (knowledge of general provisions, discussion details);
  • interest;
  • optimism (including a sense of humor);
  • sense of responsibility;
  • constructive approach (readiness to defend a position, opinion in the interests of creating and continuing the dialogue);
  • ideological (depth of judgment, high philosophical level of thinking);
  • validity of conclusions (strength of facts, ability to use argumentation options);
  • focus on the problem (highlighting the most essential, clear presentation of the controversial point, short and clear formulation of theses);
  • compromise (willingness to concede, take risks, change your position);
  • sociability (the ability to restore psychological contact);
  • intelligence (intellectual tolerance, sincerity in the manifestation of joy, restraint in anger).

Taking into account what has been said about the apodictic dispute, the statement that “truth is born in the dispute” may actually be close to such a result.

Eristic dispute . As already mentioned, an eristic dispute is conducted when it is necessary to convince a partner of something, to win over to his side, to make him a like-minded person. Bringing the new to life and abandoning the old begins with this debate. Anyone who cannot calmly look at the shortcomings, at how interesting undertakings are hampered by outdated dogmas, involuntarily gets involved in an eristic dispute.

This type of dispute is led by the initiator and the opposing partner. In groups, they are supporters of position and opposition. Therefore, such a dispute is also called parliamentary.

Its theoretical basis is the following concepts: reasoning, argumentation, persuasiveness. Reasoning is a chain of inferences (not necessarily apodictic) stated in a logical sequence. Argumentation – the logical coercion of the conclusion of the thesis (the reasoning may seem to be evidence-based). Persuasiveness is a psychological concept based on the belief in the truthfulness of what is presented, associated with certain emotions of the listener. Argumentation ensures that opinions coincide. Persuasiveness is a coincidence of feelings. In a dispute between non-specialists, it is the passions and emotions that often prevail.

Without worrying, without affecting the nervous system of people, one cannot even simply agitate. Even gather a crowd and send them to put out the fire. Moreover, it is impossible to “persuade” without this!

Argumentation is understood as the validity of statements, the support of the thesis by sources, facts, observations, etc. As soon as arguments are given a psychological coloring, their persuasiveness immediately increases and they begin to hit the target.

The arguments of the disputants can be assessed in this way: a) reasoned, but not convincing,

  1. b) convincing, but not quite reasoned,
  2. c) reasoned and convincing.

Flawlessly reasoned reasoning is called evidence . Its features: certainty of concepts; consistency of judgments; versatility of views on the subject; sufficiency of grounds for the statement of the thesis. Then the dispute becomes apodictic.

However, possessing logical flawlessness, such reasoning may turn out to be unconvincing, i.e. not affecting the emotional state of a person. Naked abstractions will not touch the soul of a partner, and he simply will not agree with us. The rational impact (on the mind and reason) must be supported by the irrational (on the feelings), then the reasoning will look reasoned and convincing. Analyze two examples and compare the strength of the impact of two arguments about the same idea, made by the famous Russian scientists and historians, professors S. F. Platonov and V. O. Klyuchevsky.

  1. F. Platonov: “… Anna surrounded herself with her German friends of Courland. The first place among them was occupied by her chamberlain von Biron, and then by the Levenveld brothers. They put at the head of the administration those Germans whom they found already in Russia … The burden of power of Biron seemed terrible to the Russian people. “
  2. O. Klyuchevsky: “Not trusting the Russians, Anna put a bunch of foreigners brought in from Mitava and from different German corners to guard her safety. The Germans poured into Russia, like rubbish from a sack of holes, covered the courtyard, sat down on the throne, climbed into all profitable places in the administration. “

Surprisingly, it is true: very often non-deductive inferences have more persuasive power, especially for those who are used to relying on the opinion of the majority, authorities, leaders, respected persons, or on their own experience.

To non-deductive, i.e. no syllogisms, but plausible conclusions include analogy, hypothesis, induction . The analogy, as already noted, allows the speaker to persuade the audience to their opinion, using the similarity of properties, attributes, actions in a new subject of speech and in a well-known interlocutor. A hypothesis is an assumption submitted at a rapid pace, “flavored” with emotions, appeals to fashion, faith, ignorance, prestige, traditions. For induction, it is enough to submit a few facts with increasing emotional impact – and the partner himself will make the conclusion to which the initiator persuaded him. Induction is suggestive.

To present the psychological characteristics of an eristic dispute, let us compare the motives of the person who inclines the audience to his opinion, and the motives of the interlocutor who resists this influence.

Why is the initiator arguing?

  • To get things done;
  • warn against ill-considered decisions;
  • induce willingness to participate in the work;
  • win over to your side;
  • achieve agreement;
  • make a partner a like-minded person;
  • find the truth or the optimal solution

What is the reason for the resistance to him?

  • The desire not to fall under the influence of another person;
  • awareness of the fundamental incompatibility of one’s own and someone else’s points of view;
  • misunderstood statement by the initiator;
  • prejudice towards his personality;
  • treating the dispute as a sport (“who will win?”)

As you can see, the range of motives of the eristic dispute is very wide. All this makes the debaters experience a great deal of pressure in communication. Plus, personal characteristics affect everything, which predetermine the approach of the interlocutor in the dispute: constructive (constructive) and destructive (destructive). Both can be defensive. Suppose the initiator puts forward a proposal and argues for it, but the partner, under the influence of his own motives, personal adversity, failures at work, or out of fear of being drawn into a situation that does not promise him benefits and a quiet life (or the results of consent are unpredictable), defends himself by putting forward an alternative …

The resulting clash of alternatives also generates a defensive reaction, which can be a counter-argument (counter-against) or obstruction (obstacle, obstacle) for the interlocutor. In this case, each disputant has an increased sensitivity to the slightest attempts by his opponents to influence each other.

Doubting the sincerity and benevolence of the first position of the initiator, the partner objects, either by placing an alternative, or by erecting psychological protection; shows alertness, doubts; bombards the interlocutor with questions, comments; tightly controls his statements; clings to inaccuracies.

If the proponent in such a situation is still trying to continue the conversation and “takes the enemy by the breast”, then the opponent can get out of the dispute altogether: they say, leave me alone. In the worst case, he launches a counterattack with obstruction, deadly criticism, discrediting and exposing the attacker, using any arguments.

Two or three words – and a skirmish begins. The dispute ends with direct or indirect disagreement between the parties. Direct disagreement is expressed with phrases such as: “I disagree with you,” “It is impossible to agree with you,” “I remain unconvinced,” etc.

Indirect signs of disagreement are that the interlocutor loses interest in our reasoning; answers questions carelessly and not to the point; tries to move away, begins to rush somewhere; looks at his watch, demonstrating that he is wasting time; yawns and with his whole appearance shows that there is no point in counting on his approval and support.

What is the best advice for the initiator for success?

  • Try to guess the motive (driving force) of your partner, start with his hope, not yours.
  • Find out everything about the interlocutor, his interests, personality traits, hobbies.
  • Formulate your point of view accurately and consistently so that your partner understands it unambiguously, regardless of the nature of the disagreement.
  • Clarify the other person’s point of view. Without this, it is impossible to find out where opinions differ, whether there is an opportunity for their convergence.
  • Do not hurt your opponent’s pride, respect your personality, acknowledge your opponent’s successes, do not destroy his hopes, do not triumph over victory.

What mistakes are often made in an eristic dispute?

  1. The first mistake: overestimating the awareness of the interlocutor. When the principle of decentral orientation is violated, the following occurs: what is known and understandable to the initiator is considered known and understandable to the partner. Consequence – the argumentation of the arguments is not provided.
  2. The second mistake: our opinion should evoke in another the same emotions that arose in us. This is a common misconception. Emotions and feelings are connected and depend primarily on motives that are not easy to identify and understand.
  3. The third mistake is from neglect of the principle of adequacy, when the assessment of one’s own capabilities and abilities is overestimated and the opponent is underestimated.
  4. The fourth mistake: a non-existent motive for his behavior is attributed to the interlocutor, and the initiator spends time and energy in the wrong direction.
  5. Fifth mistake: excessive appeal to the partner’s mind at the expense of the credibility of the emotional impact. Cicero made the following conclusion: “The orator must possess two main advantages: first, the ability to convince with accurate arguments, and secondly, to excite the souls of listeners with an impressive and effective speech” (Cicero M. T. Three treatises on oratory. M., 1972.S. 172).

But following good advice and knowing the mistakes does not guarantee a positive outcome of the dispute. In communication that is not devoid of emotional intensity, as already mentioned, psychological barriers arise associated with personality traits, psychological states, situational relationships that prevent mutual understanding or perception of the adequate meaning of the statement.

Psychological barriers are divided into semantic and communication barriers (communicative). Semantic arises from violation of the laws of logic. Communicative – due to a lack of understanding of the nature and psychology of human communication, the essence of the processes of their perception and interaction, and, finally, due to rejection of reality.

To eliminate the first type of barriers, you need to study the logic. There are a lot of rules, tips, recommendations regarding barriers of the second type. There is no need to graduate from the Faculty of Psychology. Having mastered the rules developed by humanity, we will be able to save ourselves from obstacles and situations of destructive development of the dispute. Below are some of these recommendations.


by Abdullah Sam
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