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Context

The context is "in general" but let's say that we are in any discussion that imply improving something in my life. So it can be with a GF, with a parent, my manager etc.. The argument "there is better or worse" does not take in consideration anything els that what I personnaly have.

Situation:

I would like to know what is the best answer to this argument in order to recenter the discussion on the main subject that should not be affected by what other does. I think that this argument is an easy trick to avoid any change and sometimes to just avoid a discussion.

Example #1

A : I think that we should improve [something].

B : Why do you want this ? You know, there is always better and worse, you should accept what we have now.

Example #2

A : I would like to have a better salary.

B : There is better and worse, you should accept what you have now.

Question

How can I counter the argument "there is better and worse" in order to make the interlocutor feels like he did not used a valid argument ?

closed as too broad by baldPrussian, ElizB, Ælis, JCJ, Alina Cretu Sep 28 '18 at 7:53

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    Please state the context. Are we talking about professional decisions, over the internet with a stranger or what to eat at dinner with your spouse? There is no default response that wins you an argument. Ideally you should be really specific and state where you have encountered people saying that and what your goal was, e.g. urging them to reconsider a decision at work or selling them something else. You kind of specify your goal but it's super abstract and at least to me it could mean anything – Raditz_35 Sep 27 '18 at 8:00
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    People use that argument everywhere and I want to counter it because it is a general argument that in fact has a weight for no reason, that's clearly what I'm saying in my post and I think that you're missing that point. – Meow Sep 27 '18 at 8:32
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    Please don’t write answers in comments. It bypasses our quality measures by not having voting (both up and down) available on comments, as well as having other problems detailed on meta. Use comments for asking for clarifications or suggesting improvements for the question. Comments used for other purposes will be removed without notice. – Em C Sep 27 '18 at 13:00
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    I need an example of the argument because as it's worded in the question I'm having trouble understanding the argument itself. Could you provide an example of how it's used? I think that might help us better understand so we can answer your question. – bob Sep 27 '18 at 22:20
  • Does that something that's being improved happen to cost money or infringe on anyone's rights? Every scenario I can think of requires one of those or both, for any discussion that I wouldn't personally also answer with meh. – Mazura Sep 28 '18 at 1:33
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Your question can be re-framed as being overcoming resistance to change.

In my experience reasons include:

  1. The potential to be worse off as a result of the change
  2. Fear of the unknown
  3. Effort exceeding reward
  4. Ego - it is someone else's idea

When speaking about change, you should therefore frame the conversation around the benefits the change will bring, and describe the way in which the change will occur.

Even ego can be overcome by seeding the idea in a conversation and then later referring to the conversation in terms of 'you know that idea we came up with last week'.

In the example you gave you asked the wrong question - you told rather than sold.

An online search for 'overcoming resistance for change' will give you a wealth of information, although most of it is aimed at corporate change.

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    While this is a decent answer, i think it could be improved on if you added a few examples as a result of the google search you mention. – Brian H. Sep 27 '18 at 10:45
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There is a time for a lengthy, well thought out argument, and equally there are times when it can be unhelpful to use that approach. In controlled debates where two speakers are given an amount of time to speak freely without questions, a person may have the time to carefully dismantle an opponent's position and show it to be incorrect or unhelpful, and then make their own point in whatever manner they feel is best. However, in less controlled situations such as open meetings where anybody is free to interject and speak over you if they wish, taking too long to make your point can be disastrous. You may begin to make a very good point but get interrupted and criticised over an incomplete statement.

You're asking how to fight a clichéd argument, so naturally you probably don't want to resort to clichés yourself. Hopefully my suggestions below are not too clichéd, but my point is that a brief counter statement before you make any detailed argument is the best approach if you think that you may be interrupted.

I'm going to assume the example of a business context, where you have made an argument for improvement and somebody else is arguing to keep the business model as it is. The arguments could easily be adapted to other contexts.

Perhaps you could counter such a statement with:

True, there are worse models than ours; but that should not be a reason for not wanting to improve and become one of the best. If we are neither the worst nor the best then we are mediocre.

Or

Many of our competitors have programs of continuous improvement. If we do nothing, we will be left behind. If we are not moving forwards with everybody else, it is the same as going backwards.

Neither of these approaches directly attack the idea that "there are better and there are worse" or show that to be a fallacy, but rather they show that other external factors mean that refusing to change or improve is not viable.

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    Clever answer. I like the idea to avoid using a clichéd counter against a clichéd answer. I think that's actually the best way to say that you have a viable argument without being rude to the other person. – Meow Sep 27 '18 at 9:37
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This is something you can say about anything. Anything can be better or worse. Pointing out that fact will make it obvious your interlocutor didn't use a real argument.

Some people use this kind of line precisely because they don't want to use an argument : they would rather not argue their disagreement. As such they simply use a blatant truth to close down on something you can agree with. It's up to you if you politely accept they dodge the debate, or if you feel they are getting away with it a bit too easily.

On the second case, you should try to dig their inner real reasons for disagreeing. So you can start by asking questions about their feeling about the matter.

A : I think that we should improve [something].

B : Why do you want this ? You know, there is always better and worse, you should accept what we have now.

A : There is always better and worse of anything. I thought my proposal was reasonable... what is the problem with improving [something] ?

  • Excellent answer, I think I will use that simple but effective method of agreeing. "yes there is better and worse but it does not change the need to improve [something]". The person will be forced to argue with real reason instead of blatant truth. – Meow Sep 27 '18 at 11:34
  • @maverick there is a key difference between this answer and your rephrasing. You used the word "but". This is a standard technique (agree and keep going). As part of the technique, you don't use the word "but", since that minimizes the agreement. It's "yes, and..." rather than "yes, but..." – De Novo Sep 27 '18 at 16:43
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I always hated this argument too. In this kind of situation, I use the following answer:

I know there is always better and worse, it doesn't mean we should do nothing in order to improve things!

And then, I usually go with a long tirade about how it is the responsibility of every one to make the world a better place.

Warning: The other person might get defensive after that, but they will definitively understand that you don't think "there is better and worse" is a valid answer.

I generally use this technique in an activist setting when someone (not an activist) suggest that we should do nothing because "There are bigger problems", "It is what it is" and "It's not that bad".

  • I guess that making the other person in a defensive state is almost inevitable because people using that argument tend to avoid the discussion. – Meow Sep 27 '18 at 9:13
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I think the first thing you should do is look at why this is a counter to your argument. Your argument is in the form of "I think we should expend energy in this way." Their argument is "Why expend energy at all?" The reason this counters your argument is that it's a valid question. If you seek their help in accomplishing a goal, you should at least be able to argue that what you are going after is "better than nothing."

I would not treat this as a counter to your argument. I'd treat this as an opportunity to sell them on the value of your idea. They've set their bar at "convince me that your idea is better than no idea at all." Merely proving this will bring them back to the table.

You ask for a general solution to this one, and there isn't one. You will never find one universal solution to this which magically brings the discussion back to where you want it to be. Discussions are not one sided. You need to tailor your argument to the individual. What are their goals? Their aspirations? Why is it worth it to them to spend the energy to discuss the topic, much less actually act on any results that come from that discussion?

You will need to connect with them at this level. If you cannot connect with them at this level, it is unlikely that you will be able to connect with them at a higher level later on in the discussion. If it's your boss using this argument, understand what tasks are on his plate. Nothing sells a boss faster than convincing him or her that you can do their job for them. If its your significant other, an argument like this likely points to them being tired of you forming arguments about what improvements need to be made. If its a parental figure, they may be testing you, to see what you do next.

If it's the President of the United States that you're talking to, you might take his position literally -- POTUS's time is worth quite a lot. Your topic may actually not be worth their discussion time. You may want to go find a lower cabinet member to talk with first.

In all of these cases, the correct way to resolve this challenge is founded in your relationship with the individual. Start there first.

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I might have missed that in other answers. You need to provide reasons why something needs to be done. "If it works, don't break it" principle is very important. You have to say something like:

if we're not going to change that, then we will suffer X, Y, Z consequences

At best, translate it into business value:

We need better backup strategy, or we'll lose data and possibly thousands of dollars

The main reason why that is a good course of action, is that any change has associated costs. You need to invest time and other resources into design, and implementation of your proposal. This cost must be offset by some benefit to the organization. This principle works on all levels:

  • multi-national corporations: we need today new printers that don't jam paper. Current printers jam paper every hour, stalling 1 worker for 10 min every day. Average salary is $30/hr, or $5/10 min, which turns to be at least $1000 lost a year. New printer will cost like $500
  • close circle of friends: we need to go to another place for dinner. This is because people on Yelp say they felt sick afterwards. I don't want to risk even tiny chance of that, it is not worth it to me
  • Hey, thanks for the answer! Can you please explain exactly why you think that this is a good idea? Why do you say to take this course of action? What’s the thought process behind this answer? As this currently stands, this is essentially a “Try this!” answer. We require that answers provide some sort of explanation for why they are suggesting this solution, and unfortunately, at the moment this answer doesn't appear to do that. – Arwen Undómiel Sep 28 '18 at 7:31
  • @ArwenUndómiel hopefully, done – aaaaaa Sep 28 '18 at 10:32

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