Are Logical Fallacies Hurting Your Crisis Communications?

Stay away from bad logic if you want to avoid inviting criticism

Logical fallacy is a term you hear thrown about a lot, especially if you keep track of politics. Put simply, logical fallacies are errors in reasoning. Though they come in many forms, all logical fallacies are constructed to make it easier to prove your own point while devaluing your opponent’s without  pesky ol’ reality being in the way. Here are a few of the most common logical fallacies:

Strawman

Perhaps the king of logical fallacies, users of the Strawman misrepresent, exaggerate, or straight-out lie about the opposition’s argument to make their own point easier to “prove”.

Ex. After Joe said more funding should be allocated to school lunch programs, Will responded by saying he was surprised that Joe doesn’t care about student safety and wants to take money from security budgets.

Ad hominem

This one isn’t pretty. Ad hominem fallacies are an attack on your opponent’s character or personal traits in order to discredit them.

Ex. Following a passionate speech from Frances on improving facilities for the mentally ill, her opponent asks the audience whether they’re going to base their decision on input from someone who has been receiving psychological treatment since childhood.

Anecdotal

Though some fallacies are more blatant, this is one that creeps in accidentally all the time. Anecdotal fallacies are just that – they use personal experience, or more frequently an isolated example, to “prove” a point in the face of statistics or scientific measure.

Ex. Though economic studies showed plant workers were barely making a living wage as it was, the company CEO repeatedly used the example of Roger, a veteran worker who managed to support his extended family through frugal spending, to rationalize upcoming cuts.

While you’re not out there purposely employing logical fallacies for your communications (I hope…), I do see them used unknowingly far too often. Anecdotal fallacies are among the most common, as the folks making difficult decisions struggle to find some example that fits their version of events, but they’re far from the only ones. Another terribly fallacy is use of ambiguity, which includes being wrong but counting yourself as “technically right” along with using language that’s likely be misinterpreted in your favor.

At their core, fallacies undermine your argument. While using fallacies can pull the wool over the eyes of some they’re just as likely to land you in trouble. With audiences today actively looking to criticize and even become outraged over any piece of communication it’s simply not worth the risk. Fortunately for you philosophy departments at schools around the country are more than happy to share information about fallacies and how they can be avoided via the web. Get educated, double-check your messaging, and avoid digging the hole deeper when you’re trying to climb out of a bad situation.

Erik Bernstein
erik@bernsteincrisismanagement.com
www.bernsteincrisismanagement.com

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