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STRONGER TOGETHER: Unravelling the Strawman Fallacy and Navigating Clear Communication

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Last updated: 25/09/2023

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the Strawman Fallacy.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

As someone who's been in the trenches of emotional conversations, both at home and work, I've learned that misunderstandings can turn even the simplest of instructions into a tangled mess of misinterpretations. It's during these moments of heightened emotions that we might unknowingly fall into the trap of the Strawman Fallacy.

The Strawman Fallacy is like a magician's trick. It's when someone distorts your argument into a version that's so exaggerated and distorted that it's easy to topple over, like a straw-filled scarecrow. They reframe your point of view into something no one would actually believe. They then proceed to knock down this exaggerated version, claiming victory in the debate.

Let me illustrate this with a couple of real-life examples. Picture this: you ask a colleague for a simple favour, but they've had a rough day. Instead of agreeing or politely declining, they twist your words, accusing you of being demanding and inconsiderate. They take your straightforward request and turn it into a monstrous demand. That's the Strawman Fallacy in action.

Or think of a heated argument with a friend. They start making exaggerated claims about your past behaviour, distorting your words and actions to the point where you barely recognise yourself. They're not addressing your original point; they're attacking this strawman version they've created.

So, how do we recognise and combat this fallacy? First, don't get drawn into the exaggeration or distortion. Stick to your original point and calmly restate it. Ask the person to go back to the source of truth – what you actually said or meant. If they can't, point out the exaggeration.

Emotions can run high during these exchanges, but it's crucial to keep a level head. Take a moment to gather your thoughts and then restate your request or point, acknowledging their feelings but emphasising the importance of clear communication.

When you encounter someone using the Strawman Fallacy against you in a conversation, remember to be a role model by not using it yourself. Keep the conversation clear and straightforward without twisting things around – that's how you have productive discussions.

In a world filled with emotional conversations and misunderstandings, recognising and addressing the Strawman Fallacy can help us navigate these treacherous waters. By sticking to the facts, seeking clarity, and modelling clear communication, we can build bridges instead of strawmen.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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