5 Logical Fallacies That Good Communicators Avoid

by | Jan 22, 2024

5 Logical Fallacies That Good Communicators Avoid –

Clear communication—knowing what to say and the best way to say it—is a blend of science and art. True, some people are natural-born communicators, but with focused attention, anyone can master the tools and techniques to make other people sit up and pay attention.

Much can be said about key rhetorical styles that can be employed to strengthen arguments and sway people’s opinions toward the positive. In this article, however, we’re going the opposite direction by looking into a collection of debate tools that are best left untouched: logical fallacies.

Most people don’t give a lot of thought to logical fallacies—although we are exposed to them nearly every day! These age-old argumentation techniques remain popular for a simple reason: they work.

Logical fallacies serve to elevate ideas and perspectives whose shaky foundations would otherwise be apparent to all. They give the impression of powerful, irrefutable wisdom but, like a house of cards, they lack true substance and logic. The emperor has no clothes.

Good communicators recognize both the power and potential for harm that logical fallacies offer. In this article, we’ll explore 5 of the most common logical fallacies along with ways to avoid them (and to shine the light on those who don’t).

Fallacy #1 – Ad Hominem: Attacking the Person, Not the Argument

5 Logical Fallacies that Good Communicators Avoid

Image by Julia Larson

“I Never Said That You Are Not Good At What You Do. It’s Just That What You Do Is Not Worth Doing.” – Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)

Ad Hominem—which means “against the person” in Latin—is a logical fallacy where, rather than addressing the substance of a claim or an idea, the speaker launches an attack on the person or people making the claim. This fallacy often manifests as personal attacks, character assassinations, or the dismissal of ideas based on the other speaker’s identity rather than the merit of their argument.

Ad Hominem attempts to appeal to the primal human instinct to shun anyone painted as flawed or “other.” It works by shifting focus from the argument to the messenger: rather than giving relevant evidence to refute a claim, it tries to discredit the person making it.

Unfortunately, Ad Hominem attacks are often quite effective and challenging to overcome. Here are a few suggestions to help turn the tables:

Recognizing Ad Hominem:

  • Look for instances where the focus shifts from the argument to the individual presenting it. “How can we take anything he says seriously? Look how he dresses!”
  • Identify personal attacks or attempts to discredit someone’s character rather than engaging with their ideas: “If we had any idea what goes on in her private life, we wouldn’t give her opinions a second thought.”

Avoiding Ad Hominem:

  • Stay focused on the content of the argument and avoid making judgments based on personal characteristics.
  • Encourage a dialog that centers around ideas rather than personalities.
  • When others get down in the mud, don’t follow them there. As 2-term Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker advised in a commencement address for Northwestern University, “Over my many years in politics and business, I have found one thing to be universally true—the kindest person in the room is often the smartest.”

 

Fallacy #2 – The Strawman: Distorting the Opponent’s Argument

5 Logical Fallacies that Good Communicators Avoid

Image by Michel Stockman

“You think we’re descended from apes? Do I look like an ape to you? Do I have hairy palms and a big hairy back?” – Beth Littleford (Frasier)

The Strawman fallacy occurs when a person misrepresents their opponent’s argument to make it easier to attack. Instead of engaging with the substance of an opponent’s argument, people employing this tactic reduce it to a distorted, simplified version that is easier for them to knock down.

Strawman differs from Ad Hominem because it maligns the message rather than the messenger: complex or nuanced positions are painted in simplistic terms in an attempt to avoid their true substance.

Recognizing Strawman Fallacy:

  • Pay attention to misrepresentations of an opposing argument that attempt to turn it into a punchline or absurd catchphrase.
  • Look for instances where the focus shifts from the actual points to a distorted version that is easier to criticize.

Avoiding Strawman Fallacy:

  • Take the time to understand the opponent’s argument thoroughly before responding. Address the actual points made by the opposing side rather than attacking a misrepresented version.
  • Point out when others are building a strawman argument. As snopes.com points out, calling out the use of strawman arguments can strengthen your position by putting your opponent on the defensive.

Fallacy #3 – False Cause: Correlation Does Not Equal Causation

5 Logical Fallacies that Good Communicators Avoid

Image by Bradyn Trollip

“Ah, not a bear in sight! The bear patrol must be working like a charm. “ – Homer Simpson (The Simpsons)

The False Cause fallacy arises when a connection is assumed between two events simply because they occur together. Correlation does not imply causation, but individuals often fall into the trap of assuming a cause-and-effect relationship without sufficient evidence.

Those who question the false cause fallacy may find themselves swimming upstream against public opinion or accepted ‘common sense.’ Because people tend to be linear thinkers, the timing of events can paint a compelling cause-effect picture that leads them to overlook other relevant factors. In other words, just because something good happened shortly after you found a penny on the sidewalk, that doesn’t mean the penny brought good luck.

Recognizing False Cause:

  • Question claims that assert a cause-and-effect relationship without proper evidence.
  • Look for instances where two events are correlated, but no logical or science-based explanation for causation is provided.

Avoiding False Cause:

  • Demand rigorous evidence when causal claims are made.
  • Consider alternative explanations for the correlation and avoid assuming causation without proper justification.

Fallacy #4 – Appeal to Authority: Blindly Trusting Expertise

5 Logical Fallacies that Good Communicators Avoid

Image by Katie Moum

“But don’t take my word for it. Let’s ask an actor portraying Charles Darwin what he thinks.” – Mr. Burns (The Simpsons)

The Appeal to Authority fallacy occurs when an argument relies on the authority of a person or source rather than the merit of the argument itself.

While expertise can enhance an argument, blindly trusting authority without critical evaluation is a logical fallacy. An extension of this fallacy is the classic “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV” meme: celebrity status alone is not enough to qualify someone as an expert on a topic.

Recognizing Appeal to Authority:

  • Be wary of arguments that emphasize the authority of a person or source without providing substantial evidence.
  • Look for instances where the credibility of the argument is based solely on the status or reputation of the speaker.

Avoiding Appeal to Authority:

  • Evaluate the merit of the argument independently of the speaker’s authority.
  • Consider multiple perspectives and assess the evidence provided rather than relying solely on the credibility of the source.

Fallacy #5 – Red Herring: Creating a Diversion

Image by Jon Tyson

“If outside is so good, why has mankind spent thousands of years trying to perfect inside?” – Sheldon Cooper (Big Bang Theory)

The red herring fallacy occurs when an irrelevant or misleading topic is introduced into an argument in an attempt to divert attention from the main issue. This distraction tactic is often employed as a cover for potential weakness: it intentionally draws the audience away from the true substance of a debate into side issues of little relevance.

A variation of the red herring strategy is known as “deadcatting,” which was famously explained by British Politician Boris Johnson: “There is one thing that is absolutely certain about throwing a dead cat on the dining room table – and I don’t mean that people will be outraged, alarmed, disgusted. That is true, but irrelevant. The key point, says my Australian friend, is that […] they will be talking about the dead cat – the thing you want them to talk about – and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.” 

Here are a few ways to combat the use of red herrings in a debate:

Recognizing the Red Herring:

  • Watch out for instances where irrelevant details are introduced that do not contribute to the central argument.
  • Recognize abrupt shifts in the discussion that take attention away from the main topic. Be cautious if the conversation veers off course, and the initial concern is left unaddressed.

Avoiding the Red Herring:

  • Stay Focused on the Core Issue. Resist the temptation to follow tangential paths introduced by irrelevant information.
  • Actively question the relevance of introduced information and politely bring the conversation back to the main issue.

    Thanks for spending time with this article on 5 logical fallacies that good communicators avoid.

     

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    Mark Pedrin

    Mark Pedrin

    Author

    Mark is an editor, web designer, and language instructor who loves helping individuals and organizations maximize their potential. He lives near Seattle, Washington with his wife, daughter, and one Extremely Dangerous Cat.

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