Pros and Cons of reasoning

This entails weighing the arguments in support of something (the pros) against the arguments against it (the cons) and ending up making a judgment over which outweighs the other. The factors that affect this final judgment include the number of arguments being made for each set, the amount of evidence being put forward in support of each, the relative weight that each argument holds and the logical consistency of each argument.

The interplay between these factors is almost infinite in variation, meaning that if the pros of an argument are fewer than the cons it may still trump them if those few arguments are more logical or compelling – or vice-versa. The emphasis placed on certain keywords and concepts can also affect the weighing of the arguments, meaning that a not-that-compelling point can be made more compelling through emphasizing a certain aspect of it.

Presenting both sides of an argument can make you appear impartial and hence more trustworthy, as well as exhibiting to your opponent that you have already given the issue some thought.

You can choose to go two ways when presenting pros and cons: you can either begin with points affirming the side that you favor or you can start with the opposing points. Both approaches have particular advantages: if you begin with points supporting your side, it fills your opponent’s mind with them up front, rendering the opposing points less easy to absorb.

This approach is best used when your opponent is undecided, has partial information or is encountering the issue for the first time. Beginning with the opposing points allows you to take a “set them up, knock them down” approach, where you pre-empt your opponent’s arguments and provide a stronger, targeted rejoinder for each of them. This approach in particular can take the punch out of a well-prepared opponent’s points.

For example:

Bill wants to convince the CEO and directors at work to increase the IT  department’s size. On a whiteboard, he lists the pros and cons of doing so. He begins with the cons: it would cost the company more, it would take a lot of time and effort to train and integrate the new hires into the company’s structure, and it would take more space and equipment to set them up.

Next he lists the pros: it would lessen the workload on the beleaguered existing IT team, improve the workflow in the company as a whole, prevent disasters from happening by having more eyes to catch problems before they become too big and would in the long run be a savings for the company because of the general improvement in productivity, less having to deploy expensive damage-control solutions and less overtime clocked. He places particular emphasis on the financial benefits, knowing that that is the language the directors know best.

The human brain often confuses quality and quantity, and it is possible to take advantage of this by providing many more points for the side that you support than its alternative. This type of ‘cheating’ is far more difficult to detect and call out than other methods using other types of reasoning – it is harder to pinpoint it as an attempt at deceit. It is still possible for it to be taken as evidence of shoddy thinking on your part and might be used to discredit you.

Also, do be careful when enumerating points counter to yours to avoid building ‘straw men’ that are far too easy to take down. Go for the most difficult and challenging parts of your opponent’s argument and you greatly increase the likelihood that they will have no comeback.


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