Avoiding Logical Fallacies in Business
In business, people argue all the time. Now, this isn’t about people quarreling. People fight, but not in the literal sense. A dog eat dog climate exists in the corporate world and unless you present your argument in a strong, effective manner, it’s going to be extremely difficult to convince people to go with your ideas. So what makes a great argument? Oratory is important, and so is content. Your argument, however won’t matter if you make a logical fallacy- in other words, if your reasoning is out of whack. Although logical fallacies are extremely common mistakes to make, they are also easily preventable.
What are the common fallacies we deal with on a daily basis? We have identified seven different ones that can help you build compelling arguments.
1. Ad hominem
As human beings, we often have our own biases and judgments that can hinder our argument. It is vital that you focus on your opponent’s position, not his character. Don’t attack an opponent’s character as part of your argument. This is called an “argument to the man,” and it’s a logical fallacy since character issues are often irrelevant to the argument made. Don’t use character flaws are evidence. In the corporate world, or in any interaction really, doing something like this can even make you seem spiteful and catty, two qualities that are far from helpful.
2. Post hoc ergo propter hoc
Translated directly, this phrase means “after this, therefore because of this”. When trying to avoid using it, remember the old statistics adage, “causation does not imply correlation”. Make sure that your causes and effects are separate. This is one of the most prevalent logical fallacies, occurring when you presume that just because something has taken place after something else, the second thing an effect of the first. For example, just because you received a promotion after a chat with your superior doesn’t necessarily mean that the chat may have caused the promotion.
3. Faulty generalization
Steer clear of jumping to conclusions too early into your argument. Faulty generalizations are created when you draw a conclusion from evidence that is incomplete. For example, you’re guilty of a faulty generalization if you see a teenage boy wearing low-slung pants and instantly hold your purse more tightly — you’re generalizing about the behavior of teenage boys dressed a certain way.
4. Red herring
Avoid introducing a “red herring.” A red herring is something you throw into your argument, like an irrelevant or unrelated detail – as a form of distraction from your argument’s content. Take murder mysteries for example: The shifty character you meet on page one is usually a red herring, meant to keep your attention away from the true culprit — the ordinary boy-next-door.
5. False analogy
Don’t employ false analogies. Although comparing the similarities of two things to evidence your argument, a false analogy happens when you assume that just because two entities share a common characteristic, they must share other characteristics as well. For example, you could compare the Vietnam War with the Iraq War to hypothesize about an outcome of the Iraq War, however you cannot assume that the two wars will yield identical results.
6. Either / Or
Do not try to convince your audience that it’s your way or the highway. This is called the “either/or” fallacy, and it occurs when you suggest that the only alternative to your own argument is something terrible. For example, George W. Bush committed the either/or fallacy when he claimed “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” He used this device for rhetorical effect but in reality there are other options besides the black-and-white one he describes.
7. Straw man fallacy
Finally, the straw man fallacy happens when you over simplify your opponent’s beliefs and then attack them. You argue, for example, that “people who don’t support abortion hate women”. However, by doing so, you pin the basest motive to your opponent’s views. This generalization clearly neglects the fact that the opposing argument might have deeper evidence or reasons to support the particular belief. In addition, this statement also does not refute the opposing point either, making it a futile point
From these points, it is clear to see that most logical fallacies work by generalizing arguments. While the oratory of logical fallacies may seem powerful, they are extremely weak in reality. Hasty judgments do not a good speaker or writer make, and we need these skills in order to do well.