Argumentation Skills

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I registered to Argumentation Skill course because I want to learn what is the proper way to argue. For me, giving an argument is not something new. When I was doing my bachelor study, I was a member of student board for criticizing government policy in social and politics. So, I was exposed a lot to debating culture. I also like to initiate a discussion on a controversial topic such as “Democracy is a deeply flawed ideology”, “Mental health issue is not real” etc. Such discussions give me an intellectual satisfaction.

However, I don’t consider myself good in arguing with others. My argumentativeness skill’s score is 67 which means it’s moderate. That is because in some respects, I really like an intellectual debate, however in another aspect, if I can stay away from debating, I would.


For example, when I did a project in a company, I knew that the method proposed by my supervisor won’t work. But I didn’t try to argue because he was very convinced and I was just thinking “Ok, just let me implement your algorithm to show you that it won’t work.” It took some time to implement an algorithm into a working program. I could have just given a logical reasoning for that and use the time to implement my algorithm.

When I work in the future I will have to argue to not cost myself a lot of time and energy. Because as a software engineer, I am the only one who knows my limitation, not the boss nor the client. I also will have to convince them that my argument is valid. Therefore, my first learning goal would be:

“I am able to defend my argument with some persuasion techniques”
Software development is also an abstract world and sometimes it is hard to explain. I used to think that software developer is a good job for an introvert because we do not have to talk to people. We just need to tell a computer to do something and we will have our job finished. The fact is we actually need to propose our idea to the team and the investor. It should be clear and convincing. Therefore, my second learning goal is:

“I am able to structure my argument with logical reasoning”

From my internship, the feedback that I got a lot is I was reserved and quiet. The reason for that is because I think I will always lose if I have to argue with my male counterparts. This year, after graduation, I will work in the company where I did my internship, so I think it is important to speak up with confidence. Therefore, my third learning goal would be:

“I deliver my arguments with more confidence”

Reflection on Session 1

In the first session, I learnt about giving opinion and persuasion techniques. I also put that knowledge in two practical sessions:

Giving Opinions Practical

In this session, I had to write an argument in three minutes. It was hard because I couldn’t really make an argumentation when I was not in the mood or if I was not really passionate about it. Then things got more interesting because I actually needed to defend the opposite opinion on the topic that I wrote. I wrote about how homeschooling is a lot better for children development compared to normal school. When I delivered the counter of my opinions, I got a feedback that my argument was convincing. I think this is because I acted as I was the people who really oppose homeschooling. This relates to my third learning goal: “Deliver my arguments with more confidence”.  If I can’t be confident, I can act if I were. I heard celebrity usually had an alter ego to make them feel more confident.

I also observed from another person who did the exercise with me, He did not sound convincing because his argument sound like hi was making a joke. For example, he believed that experience worth more than material things. But since he had to argue the opposite, he said: “material things could help you to boost your ego, like you have MacBook to show your status”. No one who buys MacBook would say that. As a person who would rather buy a MacBook than go to an exotic island to buy “experience”, I would say that MacBook is more tangible and you can see the return value directly. So, it is important to fully own your acting and live it up. You have to go through your opposition’s mind if you want to say something that you did not believe.

Spontaneous Argumentative Exercise

The second practical was to debate on some controversial topic. I chose “Keeping animals in zoo should be banned”. From the lecture, I got some very nice tips about my first and second learning goals. So, I applied those theories in this exercise.

Related to my first learning goal, “Defend my argument with some persuasion techniques”, I made some pathos such as: “In my country, I see that animal suffer a lot in a zoo and that they eventually died in a tragic way”. The observers thought that was a nice argument since I relate the arguments to myself and the opposition cannot argue with your feeling.

For the second learning goal, “Structure my idea with logical reasoning”. I structured my arguments with Claim, Reasons, Evidence, Acknowledgment and response, and Warrants. The first three points are pretty straightforward. But, I just realized that “Acknowledgment and response” is a pretty important part that can make your argument sounds way convincing. In the debate, I said: “It is true that a zoo can be a place to educate your kids and a conservation place, however, I believe there are alternative to achieve that function without taking animals away from their natural habitat.” The observer thought, my last argument could be the reason for winning the arguments.

Reflection on Session 2

Fallacy Exercise

This exercise is good to accomplish my second learning goal: “Structure my idea with logical reasoning”. Sometimes, you are not sure whether you are being logical or not. By acknowledging logical fallacies, I can judge myself if I am already logical enough. From this exercise, I learned that I probably did a quite a lot of “Appeal to pity” fallacy, for example, “I think you should give me a higher mark because I depend myself on a scholarship and if I got a C, they will stop my scholarship and I cannot pay my tuition fee”. That argument actually worked but that was not logical.  I should have mentioned why my work deserved a higher mark.

I also noticed that “Strawman” fallacy used a lot in software engineering community. For example, in a meeting to discuss what should we include in our client’s software, we often heard “The client are non-technical people, they know nothing about programming, they think software engineers are magicians. They think we should implement artificial intelligence and all futuristic things, but we do not have the resource for that”. In fact, the client only needs a linear regression to predict the revenue (linear regression is classified as artificial intelligence method; however, it is not that futuristic), but sometimes you feel the need to make it sounds bigger so it seems more unfeasible. That way, your team will agree with you.

Giving A Three Minutes Speech Practical

In this practical, I prepared a three minutes speech and delivered it in front of seven people. I didn’t prepare it well because I actually forgot about that assignment. I had some topics in my head but I was afraid that it would be way too controversial since I was a conservative person and my audience would be this youth European liberal people. I finally chose the topic with less controversy which is: “I support death penalty”.

I was very nervous and I was probably a bit shaking. It was actually distracted others from judging my overall speech. The feedback was mostly, I look clearly nervous. From the video, I saw myself slouched a lot and I think that contribute to my nervousness. However, I got a feedback that I look people in the eyes which is good for drawing people’s attention. So, for my third goal: “I deliver my arguments with more confidence”, I learnt quite a lot:

First, I should be well prepared if I want to be confident. The reasons and evidence that I gave in my speech was from a quick google search so, I did not really own them. My team mate told me that I seem to disagree with my opinion thus make me sound less convincing.

Second, it is okay to say a provocative topic as long as I fully believe in it. Because actually one of the student in my group had this topic “Capitalism is not good for developed country” which I thought very controversial. He delivered it with confident and he got applauded. Maybe not everyone agrees with him but, at least for me, I respect his opinion a lot. From him, I learnt that I should be more unapologetic with my voice. Also, I should not really make a rigid assumption about my audience.

Third, Body language is important. My team mates told me that I had a closed body language. It gave the impression that I would keep the opinion for myself and I don’t care if others agree or not. This is not good for persuading others. I was also told that I often changed the weight on my feet and it made the audience uncomfortable. I never noticed that before. It was good that someone pointed it out so I can change that. The good things that I should keep based on the feedbacks are, I can maintain an eye contact and I use a nice hand gesture sometimes.

Despite my nervousness, I was able to apply some persuasion technique in relation to my second goal (persuasion) such as giving a rhetorical figure. I said “Everyone’s feeling is valid. Every opinion matters.” And I think that worked well because that is one thing that my team mate remembers.

I also structure my speech according to the theory I received in the first lecture to accomplish my first goal (structure my argument). However, again, I learnt the hard way that without confidence, everything can fall apart.

Reflection on Session 3: Debate

It was my first time doing a formal debate in English so I felt quite nervous. In the previous lecture, we were given the rule and structure of the debate so we could prepare it. My teams divided the parts of speaking: opening speech, rebuttal, and the closing speech. I think it was a good strategy to help me in my third learning goal (confidence). Since I knew when I should speak up and I prepared what I was going to say, I found myself to be more confident.

We chose a motion about “We agree with European army”. As a non-European, I actually didn’t care about that topic, I have a neutral feeling towards that. So, I prepared some facts and evidence and I acted like I actually care. I gave a closing statement by repeating some statements, acknowledging the opposition, and conclude. I got a feedback that the jury did not want me to repeat the other member statement. However, since I was giving a conclusion, I thought it is good to mention some statements. Turned out the jury did not know that I was giving a conclusion at that time. So, regarding my second learning goal (structure), I think I have to mention I am speaking in terms of what. For example, I heard other group closed their debate by saying: “Dear Jury, I would like to conclude our motion. We think …. Because of these three main reasons…” And I think that can give a very nice structure for your debate.

In the second debate, we argue that “Illegal immigrant is not good for the economy”. I prepared a rebuttal speech that includes some persuasions techniques. I said that “You might think that it’s good for the immigrant’s economy itself. However, many immigrants don’t know what to expect before they came. I know personally a person working illegally in the Netherlands. She didn’t speak English. She could not travel freely. She is even not sure how to go back home.” I think that pathos element worked because nobody could invalidate a real experience. From this second debate, I was told that I used a good amount of the pathos element. However, since my story is quite long, it is good to conclude and restate my point in the beginning. This is also related to my second learning goal (structure).

As a chair group, I observed others as an input for my learning goals. Regarding my first learning goal (persuasion), in this paper, I mentioned a couple of times that using pathos in giving opinions worked quite well. However, I think it should be placed in a positive voice. For example, a girl who gave an opinion about “We should limit international student” said, “Even as an international student myself, I do not like it when Chinese student, with their limited English, slowing the group process”. I think that was very rude to say. Fortunately, she switched the subject and focused on other arguments. Her team still won because the opposition team, even though they have a very nice delivery, their arguments were not really developing. This could be an input for my second learning goal (structure).

In the end, our team won two rounds. It might sound weird but I think it was because we have some talented members to begin with. We have one girl who is in a debate team, one boy who is on student board, and one other boy is a very articulate person. They are very knowledgeable and experienced. I saw one of our opposition group had prepared a script of the debate. They prepared so much but I noticed at one point they ran out of arguments, so our group seemed to dominate the discussion part. In conclusion, it is good to be prepared but we have to know exactly what we are talking about. We have to read a lot. We also have to be a knowledgeable person in the first place in order to win an argument. I think that is a good point to improve how I can persuade others.

Conclusion

I found this course interesting and challenging in a good way. I improved my argumentation skills a lot. To reflect on my learning goals, I think I am now already pretty well-informed about how to achieve my learning goal regarding structuring my arguments and persuasion techniques. I received enough theory along the course and I got some nice feedback when I did the practical session. However, for my third goal in becoming more confident, I still struggle a lot. With all things considered, I developed my action plan as follows:

Practice to be more confident

I grew up as an introverted person so it is hard for me to speak up in front of other. However, I believe if I trained myself to be more open I can come forward as being more confident. I also should not be too insecure about what other might think of me. Most of people’s opinion would not matter. I have to stand up strong for myself and be unapologetic.

Be prepared and be a knowledgeable person

It is good to know some theories about argumentation skills. But it is more important to know exactly what you are talking about. So, these two aspects should complement each other.

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