The Rogerian Proposal

Chapter 6: Using The Rogerian Method Of Argumentation

Introduction

This lesson introduces and explains the Rogerian strategy for writing essays, one

which attempts to persuade while stressing understanding and common ground. We often

think of debates in terms of pros and cons or like a court trial that emphasizes the

competition of two sides in the presentation of their arguments. The classical and Toulmin

argumentation strategies typically seek to win a debate through the presentation of a

persuasive argument.

However, many issues do not have a clear right or wrong side to them. Even if they

do, persuading an audience on the other side is difficult if not impossible if their side is

presented as the wrong one. Imagine, for instance, two spouses debating where to go for a

vacation. There is no right or wrong choice, and depicting one side or the other as such will

not be a very effective way to persuade the other spouse.

In 1951, Carl Rogers, a psychologist, put forth the theory that the primary reason

people had difficulty in resolving disputes is that the people were constantly evaluating each

other. The more deeply-held or emotional a belief, the more a person would be seeking to

judge and discredit another person’s opposing statements, the result being a failure to truly

hear or understand those statements. Roger proposed as the solution first to try to

understand the other side and then to negotiate together to reach a consensus.

The Rogerian strategy of argumentation does not seek to win a debate but instead

seeks to find a win-win outcome. The purpose of Rogerian argumentation is to use common

ground to reach a consensus. Essentially, the Rogerian strategy is not arguing in support of

one side of an issue but acting as a mediator between two sides, seeking to negotiate to

find a common ground acceptable to both.

The Rogerian strategy is most effective for those issues that are highly emotional,

including many social and political problems, such as capital punishment, abortion, torture,

and many more. Such issues have few simple solutions to them, and asserting or implying

that the solution or answer is clear or obvious will actually make the argument seem biased

and less persuasive. Generally, people do not want to be told that a value or belief they hold

dear is just plain wrong.

The Rogerian strategy seeks to lessen the threatening aspect of the argument by

emphasizing the value of the opposition’s side and motivations. People tend to respond

similarly to how they are treated, so if an argument doesn’t seem to be attacking the other

side, the readers on the other side are less likely to be as critical in their attack on the

argument they are reading. The Rogerian strategy encourages the audience to be more open

to the argument being made because the writer has already demonstrated openness and

respect for the arguments on the other side of the issue.

The very idea that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion demonstrates the

need for Rogerian strategies of argumentation. The Rogerian strategy forces the writer to

consider the possibility that his or her side may not be absolutely right. In other words,

knowing that the argument is only the writer’s opinion, the writer asserts that this opinion is

a right one to have on the matter, if not the only right one, and seeks to persuade the

audience also to accept the possibility that the writer’s opinion is a right one, if not the only

right one. The following sections will help you better understand the process of creating a

Rogerian argument.

Organization

The Rogerian strategy assumes that the audience will be highly critical if not outright

hostile to the argument being presented. Readers with differing opinions from what they are

reading tend to be contentious, immediately challenging each and every assertion that they

find objectionable. Of course, readers should be critical in this way, but they should also be

open to the possibility of changing their minds.

The Rogerian strategy seeks to lead the reader gently to the conclusion of the

argument. Thus, the thesis is typically not explicitly stated in the introduction paragraph

where the reader might see it and immediately become defensive while reading the

following paragraphs. Instead, the Rogerian strategy begins objectively by stating the

problem and then appeals to the audience further by showing the benefits of the opposing

side. Only then are the reasons in support of the argument described, but before the

audience can become defensive, the common ground and higher interest that benefit both

sides are emphasized.

The Rogerian strategy will typically follow this pattern:

1.􀀃 Describe the problem

2.􀀃 Show understanding and value of opposing views

3.􀀃 Assert position

4.􀀃 Demonstrate common ground or higher interest

For example, look at the table below. This illustrates a discussion between two spouses

deciding where to go on vacation. One spouse seeks to persuade the other that Galveston is

a better vacation destination than Denver. The Rogerian argument might be organized like

this:

165 Effectiveness in Writing

Table 6.1: Rogerian Structure of a Spousal Vacation Discussion.

Parts of Rogerian

Structure

Example of the Part Part Explained

Describe the

Problem

Both trips cost roughly the

same, but we have enough

money in our savings for one.

You want to go hiking in the

mountains, which will require a

plane trip to Denver. I want to

visit family in Galveston, which

would be a ten-hour drive.

The problem has

objectively been

stated, focusing

only on the facts of

both trips.

Show

Understanding

and Value of

Opposing Views

The mountains are beautiful

this time of year, and we

haven’t been hiking in a long

time, so it would be great to get

that kind of exercise. It would

also be nice to be alone

together for the vacation.

Appreciation is

demonstrated for

the value of a trip

to Denver for its

beauty, exercise,

and alone time.

Assert Position I haven’t seen my family in a

few years, and my father is

getting on in age, so I don’t

know how many more chances

we’ll have to see him. We

would have time to visit the

beaches too.

Reasons

supporting a trip to

Galveston are

presented.

Demonstrate

Common Ground

or Higher Interest

We could take some nice hikes

on the beach, so we could have

some great opportunities for

exercise. We could also do

some camping for a day or two

to get some alone time or take

a few day trips to Houston. I

don’t know if I’ll get another

chance to see my family either.

Common ground is

demonstrated by

mentioning the

beauty of the

beaches, exercise

possibilities, and

the option for alone

time (the same

reasons given for

the trip to Denver).

The higher interest

of valuing family is

noted as well.

Note, that the Rogerian strategy emphasizes “common ground”, which is distinct from

“middle ground” argumentation strategy, which emphasizes finding a compromise where

both sides have to give a little. For instance, a middle ground argument using this example

might be to suggest that the trip be split with one week in Denver and one week in

Galveston or to suggest that the trips be taken separately. (See the discussion of developing

a middle ground argument in Lesson 8.)

Describe the Problem

The introduction section of a Rogerian essay presents the problem in a fair and

objective way, often pointing out how everyone (the writer and reader) are affected by the

issue and should want to reach a resolution. Why is the issue significant? Why does it need

to be resolved? Such questions are answered in this section.

For issues that seem to be continually debated, like capital punishment or abortion,

this section is a good place to explain why the best we can hope for in such debates is to

reach some type of a consensus or agreement on one aspect of the matter if not the entire

matter. For example, if writing about the abortion debate, the first section might note that it

is impossible to know with any certainty exactly when life begins, but that we still can reach

agreement on the legal rights of parents in the decision making of a pregnant teenager.

It is advisable to present the issue as a problem to be solved together rather than as

a debate. Framing the issue as a question or as a problem to be solved invites the audience

to engage in the essay as an act of seeking a solution together rather than as a “debate”.

For example:

Weak:

People against torture insist it violates human rights, but people supporting torture

insists it’s a necessary tool to ensure people’s safety.

Strong:

When it comes to the issue of torture, can we protect people’s rights while also

ensuring their safety?

Both examples are objective and don’t yet reveal the writer’s side on the issue, but the

second example demonstrates that a shared larger goal between both sides is to protect

people’s rights and ensure their safety, if doing both is possible. Here, and throughout the

essay, the writer should demonstrate as much respect as possible for the other side’s goals

or values.

It’s acceptable to reserve an outright statement of the thesis until later in the paper

since the purpose of this first section is only to describe the problem. Stating the thesis

outright might make the audience too defensive and not open to change. Writers who are

new to the Rogerian approach, however, should put the thesis statement in the introduction

paragraph so that the writers, and readers, are clear about the main idea. When using the

Rogerian approach, it can easily become a report about the beliefs of both sides, so a writer

developing experience with the Rogerian strategy should put the thesis in the introduction to

clarify that the essay will take a position on the issue.

Show Understanding and Value of Opposing Views

Next, present as fairly and objectively as possible the views of the other side. Doing

so demonstrates that the issue has been fully considered without prejudice. It builds

goodwill with the audience. Readers are more likely to trust writers who show respect for

others’ views, even when disagreeing with those views.

Explain which parts of the opposing views are strong and why. What are the

underlying good values that support these views? For example:

Weak:

Many argue torture violates the rights of those terrorists who are tortured.

Strong:

Of course we must respect the rights of all people, including terrorists.

The weak example here objectively states the value embraced by the other side. However,

the strong example embraces that value. The audience will be more likely to believe this

writer’s argument because the writer has demonstrated a shared value, a shared respect for

the rights of all people.

Assert Position

After the audience sees that the writer understands and respects their opposing

views, they will be more willing to listen to the writer’s side and similarly attempt to

understand and respect the argument being presented. This section presents the writer’s

side of the issue.

Be careful not to “come out swinging” in this section though! Remember the goal is

not to “beat” the audience and win the debate; the goal is still to work with the audience to

negotiate to a consensus together. Show the validity of the argument but continue to use

respectful, neutral language. For example:

Weak:

Torture absolutely must be allowed as the only way to protect innocent lives.

Strong:

Torture can be justifiable in situations where innocent lives are directly at stake.

The weak version uses language that might make the audience defensive, such as

“absolutely” and “only”. The strong version continues the strategy of negotiating together to

reach a consensus by suggesting only that torture “can be” allowed when lives are “directly”

169 Effectiveness in Writing

threatened. Followed with good reasons showing situations when lives really have been

directly threatened and only suggesting that torture is one possible way to protect those

lives, the audience will be more likely to accept that torture just might be a good solution, if

not the only solution, to protect those lives.

This section might note limitations to the argument, further demonstrating that the

writer has considered the issue as fairly as possible. For example:

Weak:

We can trust our law enforcement to use torture only when it is necessary.

Strong:

There may be some members in law enforcement who might use torture

unnecessarily, but safeguards can be put in place to ensure that it is used only when

all other options have failed and only when lives are in immediate danger.

The weak example opens the door for an immediate objection not just to the idea of using

torture but to how torture would be used. The strong example acknowledges the possible

problem of using torture when it is not warranted and offers a solution. The audience may

still be convinced that torture can be a justified in some situations if these safeguards exist

to prevent its abuse.

Remember, the Rogerian strategy does not attempt to persuade the audience to

accept the argument absolutely but to accept that the argument is a valid one at least under

certain circumstances.

Demonstrate Common Ground or Higher Interest

Finally, close with a focus on finding a common ground or calling for a higher interest

or goal. Use this section not to ask the readers to give up their side, but to ask the readers to

come together on the common ground.

Identify the goals and values that the opposition has in support of their side and

show how those goals and values might be accomplished on your side as well. What shared

values are found on the common ground? How might those values be respected by both

sides in some way? For example:

Weak:

An innocent person’s life is much more important than the rights of a terrorist.

Strong:

If a choice must be made between an innocent person’s life and the rights of a

terrorist, then torture may be our only option.

The weak example asks the reader to give up the value of human rights for the terrorist,

while the strong example respects the value of those rights, but asserts that they may have

to be violated in some extreme circumstances to protect the lives of other people. The

strong example emphasizes the higher interest of protecting life and the common ground of

respect for human rights and people’s lives.

This section might also be used to describe situations where the solution would work

while acknowledging that there may be other situations when the solution might not be the

best. Thus, the audience is persuaded to accept that the solution is a good one, at least in

some contexts. For example:

Weak:

The terrorists’ choice to threaten others has caused them to give up their rights, so it

is perfectly justifiable to violate their rights to protect others.

Strong:

Very few situations exist when lives are directly threatened, and only in those

situations can torture be justified as a way to protect innocent lives.

The weak example asserts a belief that the audience might find objectionable and debate,

but the strong example asserts that the argument in support of torture exists primarily for

the extreme situations when lives are directly threatened, a proposition the audience may be

much more willing to accept as true.

Writing A Rogerian Argument

______________All writing requires careful audience analysis to be effective, but the nature of the

Rogerian strategy as negotiation between two sides makes such audience analysis even

more important. What do the readers likely already know about the topic? What are their

likely fears or objections? Why would they likely feel one side is right or wrong? What values

or goals are shared with the audience?

When preparing a Rogerian argument, it might help to write a paragraph, outline, or a

brief draft of an essay from the opposing side of the issue. Pretend, for a moment, that you

are your opponent. How would you write the essay in support of the other side? Then, review

what you’ve written from this opposing side. Where are there shared values or goals

expressed? What points do you agree with? Try using these points to show understanding

and appreciation of the other side while negotiating a common ground. (In fact, such

opposition papers are often written in government organizations for the same reason of

identifying mutual values and goals to later be used in policy papers or speeches that

support the other side.)

Remember, be respectful and compassionate with word choice throughout the essay.

Avoid absolutes like none, never, all, or always, leaving room for exceptions. Avoid words like

clearly or obviously if the idea might actually be debatable to those who disagree with you.

Be especially wary of rhetorical questions since they can sound sarcastic to others who do

not agree with your answer to the question. For example:

Weak:

How could we not use torture if a million lives were at stake?

Strong:

Could torture make a difference if a million lives were at stake?

The audience could answer the weak question with many possible options other than torture

that might be tried. The question sounds sarcastic to those who oppose the use of torture. In

contrast, the strong question is open-ended; both proponents and opponents of torture

might ask such a question. Seeking the answer together is the goal of the Rogerian strategy.

Conclusion

This completes lesson six. Hopefully, after reading this lesson, you have a better idea

of how to approach a Rogerian essay. When writing an essay using the Rogerian strategy,

ask yourself:

􀁸􀀃 Has the introduction fairly and objectively presented the problem?

􀁸􀀃 Are the opponents’ views accurately and considerately explained?

􀁸􀀃 Are the values shared with my opponents identified?

􀁸􀀃 Is my tone compassionate and respectful?

􀁸􀀃 Is the common ground provided truly a win-win for both sides?

The checklist above should help you write an effective Rogerian argument.

Questions to consider

1.􀀃 How is the Rogerian argumentative style different than the Toulmin method?

2.􀀃 Why is the Rogerian method effective for those issues that are highly emotional?

3.􀀃 How important is explaining the counterargument in the Rogerian method of

argumentation?

Chapter 7: Using The Rogerian Method Continued

Introduction

In lesson six, you learned about the Rogerian argumentative style of writing. Lesson

seven will review this style of writing again through the examination of two famous examples

of this argumentative style: President Obama’s DNC speech given in 2008 and President

Reagan’s RNC speech given in 1980.

Rogerian Argument Review

Remember that the Rogerian strategy of argumentation does not seek to win a

debate but instead seeks to prove a claim through an understanding of the other side and a

discussion of shared values. In other words, with the Rogerian style of argumentation, a

writer must first make a claim about an issue. Then, in order to prove this claim, that writer

needs to demonstrate a clear understanding of the other side of this issue and find the

common ground between both sides. This common ground is used to prove the writer’s

claim. This strategy encourages the audience to be more open to the argument being made

because the writer has demonstrated respect for other arguments about an issue.

Rogerian Sample Argument – President Obama’s DNC Acceptance Speech, 2008

Our first stop in this week’s lesson is to review a Rogerian sample argument,

President Obama’s DNC Acceptance Speech in 2008. Please click on the following link to

listen to the Acceptance Speech: The American Promise. You may also read the acceptance

speech given by President Obama below at the end of this lesson. This discussion will not

focus on the topics that Obama presents in his speech, but the way in which Obama

organizes his speech. When you listen to or read this speech, note that there is an

argument that President Obama makes – he wants to prove to the audience that he is the

best candidate. However, to do this, he needs to ensure that the other side, made up of

Republican voters, is not alienated by his discussion. Therefore, his acceptance speech

cannot be confrontational. Instead, he must attempt to prove his side by considering the

views of Republicans and Independents and showing the common ground.

Let’s take a look at the speech in further detail. First, the purpose of Obama’s

speech is not only to accept the democratic nomination for president, but also to convince

voters to vote for him. However, President Obama not only wants to convince Democrats to

vote for him, he also seeks Republican votes. Therefore, when he opens his speech, he

does not ‘attack’ the views of the Republicans. Instead, he opens with a dream that holds

true for all Americans: “It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that

through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come

together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their

dreams as well.” Then, instead of insulting the Republican candidate, John McCain, he

praises him: “Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn

the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our

gratitude and respect.” In this way, Obama keeps the views of his audience in mind.

Remember from lesson six that the Rogerian strategy appeals to the audience by showing

the benefits of the opposing side. The audience would not be swayed to vote for Obama if

he insults their beliefs or their candidate.

In the body of the speech, Obama begins to give the meat to his side, the reasons in

support of his argument. He first lists some of the issues that American faced in 2008.

175 Effectiveness in Writing

Then, he explains how his policies differ from McCain’s. In this section, he carefully avoids

insulting McCain. Instead, Obama shows how McCain is mistaken. However, he does so in

a manner that unifies all Americans, no matter what their political affiliation is: “Tonight, I

say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this

great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century,

the American promise alive.” As illustrated in Obama’s speech, in a Rogerian essay, it is

important to keep the audience in mind throughout the argument, even when presenting

your particular argument.

Lesson six mentioned that at the end of a Rogerian essay, the common ground and

higher interest benefiting both sides should be emphasized. President Obama does this at

the closing of his speech:

[L]et us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you,

and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be

Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and

bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not

served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of

America. […]

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the

number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may

be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in

Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping

AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex

marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters

deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of

discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits

when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American

wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of

a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in

common effort.

In this section, Obama attempts to bridge the gap and establish the common ground

between Republicans and Democrats. He shows that all Americans want the best for the

United States, and he also attempts to show the common ground between a number of

ethical issues. This section of the speech illustrates what is meant by common ground.

Rogerian Sample Argument – President Reagan’s RNC Acceptance Speech, 1980

Of course, Barrack Obama was not the only president who made use of the Rogerian

style of argumentation. Ronald Reagan did the same with his Republican National

Convention speech in 1980. Please click here to listen to this speech: President Reagan’s

RNC Acceptance Speech. You can also find his speech at the end of this lesson as well. Like

the section above that discussed Obama’s acceptance speech, this section emphasizes the

organization of Reagan’s speech, not the particular topics within his speech. In this speech,

Reagan’s goal is similar to Obama’s 2008 speech: he too wants to win the votes of

Americans. To do this, Reagan utilizes the Rogerian format.

First, Reagan begins his speech by removing the barriers between Republicans and

Democrats. He states this directly at the beginning of his speech:

I want my candidacy to unify our country, to renew the American spirit and sense of

purpose. I want to carry our message to every American, regardless of party

affiliation, who is a member of this community of shared values.

In this quotation, Reagan does not polarize his audience. He is keeping his audience in

mind, and he lets his audience know that his speech and candidacy is for all Americans, not

just for one political group. In the introduction, he also tells his audience that all Americans

share the same concerns:

Never before in our history have Americans been called upon to face three grave

threats to our very existence, any one of which could destroy us. We face a

disintegrating economy, a weakened defense and an energy policy based on the

sharing of scarcity.

This quotation from Reagan shows that all Americans, no matter what their political

affiliation is, share the same concerns. Rogerian arguments do not start by honing in on the

argument and antagonizing the other side. Instead, like the example above from Reagan’s

speech, Rogerian arguments should appeal to both sides of an issue.

In the body of his speech, Reagan continues his argument in a calm, rational

manner. Reagan shows the flaws with the other candidate; however, he avoids insulting the

other side, and instead, Reagan explains why his beliefs are stronger than the other

candidate. He does this through specific points that illustrate unity between Americans:

“Together, let us make this a new beginning. Let us make a commitment to care for the

needy; to teach our children the values and the virtues handed down to us by our families; to

have the courage to defend those values and the willingness to sacrifice for them.” Reagan

also unifies Americans in his speech with the following: “It’s time to put America back to

work, to make our cities and towns resound with the confident voices of men and women of

all races, nationalities and faiths bringing home to their families a paycheck they can cash

for honest money.” Reagan does this in his speech because he wants the other side to vote

for him, so he attempts to create a tone of unity, not division.

Finally, at the end of his argument, President Reagan shows the common ground

between all American voters:

It is impossible to capture in words the splendor of this vast continent which

God has granted as our portion of His creation. There are no words to express the

extraordinary strength and character of this breed of people we call Americans.

Everywhere we’ve met thousands of Democrats, Independents and

Republicans from all economic conditions, walks of life bound together in that

community of shared values of family, work, neighborhood, peace and freedom. They

are concerned, yes, they’re not frightened. They’re disturbed, but not dismayed. They

are the kind of men and women Tom Paine had in mind when he wrote, during the

darkest days of the American Revolution, “We have it in our power to begin the world

over again.”

In Reagan’s final section of his speech, he establishes the common ground between all

Americans by showing that Americans share the same issues and the same values. Like

President Obama above, President Reagan shows that all Americans want the best for the

United States. In this final section, Reagan, like Obama, illustrates how finding the common

ground between political parties can help strengthen an argument and a politician to be

elected.

Conclusion

In this lesson you read two examples of successful Rogerian arguments. Often,

politicians use the Rogerian strategy in order to win over voters. Using Rogerian win-win

strategy appeals to audiences, and, at least in the case of Barrack Obama and Ronald

Reagan, helps to persuade an audience. Just like the Rogerian argument helps politicians

179 Effectiveness in Writing

win elections, the Rogerian argumentative method can help you successfully persuade an

audience as well.

Questions to Consider

1.􀀃 Why would politicians consider the Rogerian method useful?

2.􀀃 How can reading Rogerian arguments help strengthen your argumentative skills?

3.􀀃 Why is it important to consider the values of your audience when forming an

argument?

Works Cited

Obama, Barack. “The American Promise.” American Rhetoric. n.d. Web. Jan. 6, 2012.

Reagan, Ronald. “Acceptance of Republican Nomination for President at the 1980

Republican National Convention in Detroit, Michigan.” Ameircan Experience. PBS.

WGBH Educational Foundationn.d. Web. Jan. 6, 2012.

 
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