Natalie interrupted Geoff. "I don't think that's a realistic approach at all. Even if we had the budget, we don't have time to hire thirty people."
Geoff was now on defense. "I never suggested that — I said that to make the scheduled date would require thirty more people. Hiring is probably the worst way to get there."
Playing defense, Geoff's task is not only to make his original point, but also to remove the distortions that Natalie has introduced into the debate by using a technique called the Straw Man fallacy.
To use Straw Man, you state your partner's position in a form that's easy to refute. Then you refute your restatement of it, often by showing that it has unacceptable implications.
Most of us use Straw Man from time to time. It's so common that we rarely notice it. Here are some indicators that your partner may have used Straw Man.
- A sense of frustration
- Feelings of frustration during debate can arise from many possible sources, but check for Straw Man first.
- Someone characterizes your position
- Your partner characterizes your position, and you have little or no opportunity to critique the characterization before the process of drawing extremely undesirable inferences has begun.
- Absolute language
- The Straw Man fallacy
is so common that
we rarely notice it
- In the characterization of your position, nuances and qualifications are removed, and an absolutist version of your position emerges. Words like every, nobody, all, none, always, never, forever, 100%, completely, and so on are good indicators.
- I never said…
- If you feel the need to clarify, or to deny that you said something, there's a good chance that your partner has used Straw Man.
If the user of Straw Man prevails, success might be based not on the strength of the argument, but on a distorted premise. And anything constructed on that basis is more likely to be wrong. To manage this risk, be prepared to deal with the Straw Man fallacy when it appears.
- Make sure that everyone understands the Straw Man fallacy, how it works, and what it costs.
- Notice characterizations
- When you notice that someone's position is being characterized, speak up. Before the implications begin to flow, ask for discussion of the characterization, and gain agreement that it's fair and complete.
When we use Straw Man in the decision-making context, we typically intend to eliminate something from the list of candidates so that the group will choose one of the other options. This is a setup for tragedy. If the ploy works, we will have chosen that option not by comparing it to the options we do have, but to distortions of them. And we will have built our decision on a foundation of straw. Top Next Issue
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!
For more on the Straw Man fallacy, see D. Walton, "The Straw Man Fallacy," in Logic and Argumentation, J. van Bentham, et. al., ed. Amsterdam: North Holland, 1996. Available at io.uwinnipeg.ca/~walton/96straw.pdf.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.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.
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.
More articles on Emotions at Work:
- Begging the Question
- 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?
- When we take time to express to others our appreciation for what they do for us, a magical thing happens.
- Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II
- Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set
of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.
- Patterns of Conflict Escalation: I
- Toxic workplace conflicts often begin as simple disagreements. Many then evolve into intensely toxic
conflict following recognizable patterns.
- Unanswerable Questions
- Some questions are beyond our power to answer, but many of us try anyway. What are some of these unanswerable
questions and how can we respond?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrendbTtLLSVlUPPCNkAner@ChacthFxWKdRwnLylOCDoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info