In my work with teams who make decisions together about tactics, strategy, and personnel, logical fallacies and cognitive biases show up, so I’m going to write a few posts about some of the most common. This is the fourth post in this series. You can find links to the first three posts at the bottom of this one.
Definition: Misrepresenting someone’s argument to make it easier to attack.
Simple Example: After Bill said we should be nice to kittens, Wilma said that Bill thinks we need to be mean to dogs.
One political example: Second amendment rights advocates and gun control advocates often engage in the Strawman fallacy.
Bill proposes there should be a ban on assault rifles.
Wilma says, “Bill wants to take away all our guns.”
Francys says, “We should allow local school districts the right to allow teachers to have sidearms according to unique local circumstances.”
Bill says, “Francys wants every teacher in our elementary schools to brandish weapons.”
What it looks like at work:
Bill: “Okay, it’s time to combine warehouse operations across the business units.”
Wilma: “Combining all the business units is going to lead to dilution of the brand, and brand is most important!”
Francys: “Yeah, Bill! You’re going to dilute the brand, and that’s the best thing we’ve got going for us.”[Wilma and Francys leave the meeting and spread the word that Bill wants to combine all the business units.]
What to do?
Slow down. Notice assumptions happening. Notice exaggeration. Ask questions.
“Wilma, I’m not sure that’s what he meant. Bill, did you really mean we should merge everything? I thought you were just talking about operations.”
Protect the ones who might be misrepresented more than others.
“Hey, Francys, I’m not sure that’s fair; I think Bill just wanted to consolidate some operations, nothing more than that.”
Note: Using the Strawman makes it easier to use the Slippery Slope: “First we combine operations, then we consolidate sales, then pretty soon we’re all one big consolidated outfit without any brand uniqueness.”
What examples do you have?
For more in this series: