Family Holiday Postmortem — The Scientifically Best Way To Disagree

So I should have written this a month ago. Sue me. :) 

“He’s a con man!” comes the cry from the other room. 
“No!” comes the harsh reply. “He’s a BUSINESS-man!”

If you were lucky enough to be around friends and family this holiday season, I can only imagine you had a similar exchange. Hell, it doesn’t have to be politics. You could have been caught kvetching over the undercooked turkey, not pulling your weight in secret santa, anything! 

Thankfully, social psychologist and beautiful-human-being Anatol Rapaport has formulated a series of rules on the best way to disagree with Mom, Pop, and Sis, even IF you CLEARLY stated that you wanted your turkey cooked medium well. So, what's the secret sauce? Let's find out. 

(NB: This even-tighter formulation of Rapoport's principles is courtesy of Daniel Dennett in his killer tome INTUITION PUMPS)


  1. You should attempt to re-express your target’s position so clearly, vividly, and fairly that your target says, “Thanks, I wish I’d thought of putting it that way.

  2. You should list any points of agreement (especially if they are not matters of general or widespread agreement).

  3. You should mention anything you have learned from your target.

  4. Only then are you permitted to say so much as a word of rebuttal or criticism.

Now, like many people, your ego may bristle at the idea of having to concede even the smallest fucking inch to the dunce you’ve been unfortunate to get locked in rhetorical combat with. But! That’s no way to get things done. I always imagine that I’m talking to just another version of myself. It keeps things nicer. Wouldn’t you want ALL of your arguments to include the above 4 steps? Call me Robin Hood’s forest, because I Sher-wood. 



But beyond that, there is a legitimate psychological underpinning to starting your counterpoints with this method. In particular, it makes your opponent more receptive to your comments. The level of courtesy and understanding that goes into getting an actual, accurate expression of your opponent’s views goes a long way to show your fellow human being that, yes, you care about this interaction and, yes, you care about THEM. No one wants to get into a conversation where they don’t feel listened to. Would you?

Truly though, these 4 little tenets have helped me gain a lot of personal ground. As a younger lad, I abhorred argument. Every contradiction felt like a persecution. But ever since using this trick to engage in these sorts of conversations, they’ve gone from a trudge through the mud to a pretty liberating way to express your views. Not only does this system show a fellow interlocutor that you’re engaging them earnestly, it FORCES you to truly have compassion and understanding for the other side of the argument. So often (especially in online forums), important conversations either start or devolve into two people yelling entrenched opinions at each other, with a lull in the convo simply serving as a chance to gather your thoughts for the next salvo. 

So this new year, consider taking use of Daniel and Anatol’s simple and easy approach to argumentation. You’ll feel a difference. 

Even if only in the turkey. 


Grant Lease