Being Defensive In an Argument Makes You Look Weak

So, this week the NFL officially banned taking a knee on the field. Players who do will be fined. I thought, great. Here’s another way for you to pay for being black, or to pay for caring about issues that affect black people. Not that the players are entirely without options; they can choose to stay in the locker room while the national anthem plays. Also known as, you can protest all you want, just do it where no one can see you.

It’s sad. I understand what’s going on. The NFL needs to secure the money via advertisers and ticket sales. It needs to preserve football’s image as a great American past time. It also apparently felt threatened enough that it needed to neuter a significant black protest that veered too close to the truth – whatever that truth may be for you.

But the truth is a funny thing. There are many sides to an issue, and more than one can be valid or have merit. Depending on who’s saying what and how they present their argument, I think it’s perfectly fine to express contrary opinions, especially when you, say, work on a popular TV chat show. I use that scenario deliberately because Meghan McCain, a host on ABC’s The View, recently went on Twitter to defend herself after she got backlash over her support for the NFL ban.

Like many who are misguided about the issue, McCain chose to focus on a superficial perceived disrespect for the flag, rather than the deeper issue the players were calling attention to – the ridiculous frequency of police brutality against African Americans in this country.

But why is she so defensive? McCain was at least partially prepared. She came with stats from reputable sources to support her argument. She was open about knowing that her stance was unpopular. Yet, at one of the first signs of disagreement, she broke down and yelled at her cohost Sunny Hostin.

I’ve never actually watched a full episode of The View, but I do know that yelling at one’s fellow co-host is a fairly common activity on the show. McCain yelling at Hostin, “I’m still speaking!” could be par for the course, although I’m inclined to think maybe not since it made the news. Of course, that could just be click bait because the NFL ban is a controversial topic.

Whether this particular clip is reflective of McCain’s usual style of chat or not, she was painfully defensive, and it damaged her credibility. If you know you hold an unpopular stance, and you’re still prepared to say your piece, be confident. To resort to yelling and squawking like a child weakens your argument.

However strongly you may believe in something, and no matter tightly you may cling to your position, how you present your case is important. It could mean the difference between becoming Friday joke fodder and actually persuading someone to feel and behave differently.

In many ways, the internet has turned argument and dissension into the new discourse. Many of us have forgotten how to communicate without going for the throat. We’ve lost the skill needed, and perhaps the inclination, to express our point of view while being respectful of our opponent.

Being snarky, however entertaining it may be, does not put you in a position of strength in a debate. One’s communication style should be sincere and somewhat spontaneous, particularly in an environment like The View. But what’s more productive, immediately going on the attack or asking questions and genuinely listening to the dissenting argument?

Even if you don’t believe what the other person is saying, I believe in taking a long-term strategic view for any communication in a public forum. Meaning, does this stance help or hurt my position and my brand? Does it weaken me in some way? In this case I’d say yes. McCain’s poor communication skills got her some serious press – she’s the weekend tid bit that people will shake their heads over. In other words, she’s a joke.

Being able to receive criticism is a trait many associate with high levels of emotional intelligence and great leadership. Listening, asking questions, these are beneficial strategies in potentially divisive debates.

Don’t get me wrong, I know you can’t always take the high road. People will try you, but never forget to guard your image. Don’t let your ego carry you into a situation where your argument is completely supplanted by your behavior while expressing that argument. It’s easy to be dismissed when you’re blustering.

I don’t think it’s ever misplaced to choose to literally or metaphorically walk away from a contentious verbal fight, to be the bigger person, to agree to disagree. Timing is important, as is the preparation with which you defend your position. A sophisticated communication style with the strength of your convictions as well as an intimate knowledge of who you are as its foundation will almost always win, whether your argument sways your audience completely or not.

Furthermore, it’s okay to be wrong. I think it shows strength to listen to other’s point of view, to absorb what they’re saying, and potentially to ask questions with an eye to understanding or even to reinforcing your own argument. Just be considerate, and that goes for McCain’s cohosts. I’m inclined to think they routinely interrupt each other, but too much of that is just not cute.

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