The Power of the Balanced Argument
Weighing the Pros and Cons – A Tricky Balance
You are giving a speech, making a presentation, call it what you will. This isn’t something you’re doing for fun. You want, no, need to persuade the audience to your point of view.
So it’s a good idea to give them an alternative solution, an option. Yeh, right. Are you mad? Why on earth would you do that?
That’s a very good question. Would you like to understand more about this crazy idea? And why it might just work?
Speaking of Decisions
Decisions can be hard, can’t they? Do we go this way or that way? Do we buy this product or that one? Who do we vote for? Which school is best for our children?
We mull them over, look at the pros and cons. We do our research. Perhaps we ask others for their views.
Sometimes decisions can be put off – we just can’t decide. But other times they can’t be dodged. Maybe a deadline is looming.
Do you hate those Google reviews: The Top 15 TVs or the Best 25 Dishwashers?
Wouldn’t most of us prefer someone to take us through the decision making process and recommend the best course of action or the product to buy?
Could you be that person? Hold that thought.
The Balanced Argument
Before we go any further, it’s time to pop back to school.
According to educational resource provider, Twinkl, “It is critical to introduce children to this concept (the balanced argument) at an early age because this kind of writing and argumentation is used throughout education, from KS2* to university.” (KS2: Key Stage 2 – ages 7 to 11).
So the concept of the balanced argument is considered important enough to be used in the National Curriculum and yet we rarely use the approach in our speeches.
Are we missing out?
Twinkl goes on to say:
“The key with balanced arguments is to present both sides of an argument, providing evidence for both, even if you are choosing to argue one way or another. Doing this successfully, showing that your argument is not ‘biased’, is a great way to lend credibility to your argument.”
Whoa, did they say I’d be more credible if I presented a balanced argument?
Yes they did.
If we establish our credibility, it is a powerful step towards making our case. And yet we often overlook it when trying to convince others to take a particular course of action, don’t we?
At its simplest level, presenting a complete picture demonstrates our knowledge of whatever subject we are speaking on. And it shows that we have an appreciation that there may be credible alternatives to our proposition. That certainly helps credibility.
So how to go about it?
Think about when you speak in a meeting or make a presentation. As we’ve already seen, you want to persuade people to your point of view, don’t you? Perhaps you want them to take a certain course of action.
Might it be helpful if you presented a balanced argument, for and against? Of course, having presented the facts you could let the listeners decide for themselves the appropriate course of action.
In some circumstances that might be appropriate.
But why not offer your recommendation?
Shall we explore the balanced argument a little further?
It’s probably best to start as with planning any other speech or presentation. Jot down anything that comes into your head that may be relevant, regardless of which side of the argument it represents.
Then, when you have all your ideas written down, separate them into pros and cons for your chosen case, and match them up. Put another way, make sure every element has a balancing perspective.
If it doesn’t balance, think really hard to try to see a different point of view that someone else might argue. It could be helpful to involve a colleague to play devil’s advocate.
Having done all that, it’s time to structure your presentation. There are two approaches you can take.
If there are relatively few main elements, you could present both sides of the argument for each in turn. The benefit of this would be the relevant information would be fresh in the minds of the audience for each aspect.
Perhaps the more usual approach would be to outline the complete case for one side and then present the counter argument.
What Is Your Aim?
At this point you need to consider what you are trying to achieve. Is your purpose to inform the audience and leave them to decide on which position they support? If so, it’s time to sum up the key points for each side and be done.
However, it’s more likely that you want to convince the listeners to a particular course of action. In which case, the most effective approach will be to present the argument first for the action that you do not support.
Once the audience is fully versed in one side of the case, you can then present the side you favour. The details of the second case will be more firmly printed in the minds of the audience. Therefore they are more likely to favour it.
OK, so analyse the key points of each side and explain why you believe the second option to be superior.
The alternative approach is to unbalance things by demolishing the original position as you go, highlighting the key advantages of the second option.
“… Yes, of course we could employ Bloggs & Co to build our new office. They are a local company with a good reputation, as I mentioned earlier.
But let me introduce you to Borchester Builders. They are local too. And they can do all that Bloggs can do and more. And I believe they can do it better. Point by point I’ll explain why I support using them. …”
We won’t bore you with the merits of Borchester Builders.
The Balanced Argument x 3
So there you have it. Admittedly, keeping your balance can be a bit like walking a tightrope at times. As a reminder, here are the varying degrees of balance:
- Both sides presented equally without any view on which you support.
- Both sides presented equally, followed by a recommendation.
- The first case presented and then the second presented, while highlighting its advantages.
And that’s the balanced argument. Still think we’re unbalanced for suggesting it?
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