Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 37;   September 15, 2004: Begging the Question

Begging the Question

by

Begging the question is a common, usually undetected, rhetorical fallacy. It leads to unsupported conclusions and painful places we just can't live with. What can we do when it happens?

A rhetorical fallacy is an error in reasoning. There are dozens of different kinds of fallacies, and "begging the question" is among the most common. We beg the question when we use one unproven assertion to "prove" another. For example:

Boss: "Jean, Mark says you're bullying him. I want it stopped."

Jean: "I certainly am not bullying anyone."

Boss: "Then why does Mark say so? Stop it, or I'll have to take action."

Here, Boss uses an unproven assertion that Mark would complain only if Jean were actually bullying him.

Circular reasoningWhen the unproven assertion underlies a long chain of assertions, unwinding the fallacy is like opening a nested set of Russian matryushka dolls. We find assertion within assertion, but never the solid proof we seek.

Although inept or devious debaters are the usual perpetrators, we do find rhetorical fallacies elsewhere. Our innermost thoughts can contain chains of unreason using rhetorical fallacies, and we can find them embedded in organizational policy and procedure, where they have enormous impact. Here's an example:

Boss: You're unsuitable for customer contact, so I reassigned you to maintenance of the mud pit.

Jean: In what way am I unsuitable?

Boss: Well, for one thing, you're covered with mud.

Our innermost thoughts
can contain chains
of unreason that
use rhetorical fallacies
This is a form of begging the question that's sometimes called circular reasoning. In circular reasoning, the assertion chain loops back on itself. In this example, the circularity lies not in the reasoning, but in the sequence of events. It's laughably obvious, because the chain is so short, but in realistic situations, the chain can be so long that the circularity escapes our notice.

If the Boss above wants to beg the question without circularity, he or she might try this:

Boss: Because you question everything — you're even questioning me right now.

Since Boss has demonstrated neither that Jean questions "everything," nor that questioning implies unsuitability for customer contact, both propositions are unproven.

Here are some tips for dealing with those who beg the question.

Think it through
Does your partner's reasoning use unproven assertions? How many? Which are most important?
Seek justification
If the floor is open for discussion, ask your partner to justify the most important unproven assertions.
Avoid citing your partner for begging the question
Many of us have heard the term "begging the question," but we aren't sure what it means. Confronting people who are unsure might embarrass them, which can have explosive results.
Confronting power can be risky
When people with power beg the question, they usually know what they're doing. Confronting people who intend to sneak one past you probably won't work.
Limit inquiry
If your partner responds to your inquiry by begging the question yet again, back off. Further progress is unlikely.

Begging the question introduces risk by distorting group process. How do I know? Trust me, it just does, OK? Go to top Top  Next issue: The Unappreciative Boss  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenNZyqRRsCwfavqzqxner@ChacnWDZodDjNrnOhVXwoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

Two fingers pointing at each otherIntimidation Tactics: Touching
Workplace touching can be friendly, or it can be dangerous and intimidating. When touching is used to intimidate, it often works, because intimidators know how to select their targets. If you're targeted, what can you do?
Elevator doors at the Spalding Building, Portland, Oregon (2012)A Guide for the Humor-Impaired
Humor can lift our spirits and defuse tense situations. If you're already skilled in humor, and you want advice from an expert, I can't help you. But if you're humor-impaired and you just want to know the basics, I probably can't help you either. Or maybe I can...
The Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft is seen reflected in the glasses of Expedition 36 backup Flight Engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASAFiltered Perceptions
How we see things influences how we see things, almost like a filter or sunglasses. What are your filters?
A wrecked automobileToxic Conflict at Work
Preventing toxic conflict is a whole lot better than trying to untangle it once it starts. But to prevent toxic conflict, we must understand some basics of conflict, and why untangling toxic conflict can be so difficult.
Tennis players shake hands after their matchPreventing Toxic Conflict: Part II
Establishing norms for respectful behavior is perhaps the most effective way to reduce the incidence of toxic conflict at work. When we all understand and subscribe to a particular way of treating each other, we can all help prevent trouble.

See also Emotions at Work, Effective Communication at Work, Critical Thinking at Work and Rhetorical Fallacies for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A vizsla in a pose called the play bowComing April 26: Why Dogs Make the Best Teammates
Dogs make great teammates. It's in their constitutions. We can learn a lot from dogs about being good teammates. Available here and by RSS on April 26.
A business meetingAnd on May 3: Start the Meeting with a Check-In
Check-ins give meeting attendees a chance to express satisfaction or surface concerns about how things are going. They're a valuable aid to groups that want to stay on course, or get back on course when needed. Available here and by RSS on May 3.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenzscrdjqgQSsHuHzFner@ChacClOHboCaRNQisSAzoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Changing How We Change: The Essence of Agility
MasteChanging How We Change: The Essence of Agilityry of the ability to adapt to unpredictable and changing circumstances is one way of understanding the success of Agile methodologies for product development. Applying the principles of Change Mastery, we can provide the analogous benefits in a larger arena. By exploring strategies and tactics for enhancing both the resilience and adaptability of projects and portfolios, we show why agile methodologies are so powerful, and how to extend them beyond product development to efforts of all kinds. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
More articles about person-to-person communication!
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.