Explanation And Argument: Instructional Designers, Know The Difference

The Difference Between Explanation And Argument  

There is a difference with a distinction between explanation and argument. And it pays to know the difference in order to reduce mistakes caused by misunderstandings – the number one avoidable cost of doing business.

Before examining the distinctions between explanation and argument, first it is important to understand that we rarely argue about facts. The objective truths of mathematics or accounting or a person or business’s history are rarely disputed. What are almost always disputed are subjective opinions. And subjective opinions make up the vast majority of life inside a business or outside. Is this person contributing to the team effort? Is that marketing plan the best we can come up with? Usually there are no de facto obvious, demonstrable, provable answers to these kinds of subjective questions; just conjectures and theories that may be reflexes or may be well argued positions.

Teams instinctively deploy explanations and arguments as a way to come up with the optimum answer or opinion. They probably are doing this without knowing the difference. So, understanding the distinction between explanation and argument can avoid costly mistakes.

  • Arguments attempt to show how something is, will be, or should be true.
  • Explanations try to show why something is or should be true.
  • Arguments aim to contribute knowledge.
  • Explanations aim to contribute understanding.

How do you know if you or someone else is explaining something or arguing for something?

The key is justification. Justification is the reason why someone can properly hold a belief, and why that belief is likely a true one. Is the person explaining or arguing credible?

It is important to be aware when an explanation is not a justification. A criminal profiler or a human resource officer may offer an explanation of why someone behaved a certain way – for example the person got evicted or has a family member in serious trouble. This is not an argument. It may justify the action, but not explain or excuse it.

This is an important distinction because we need to be able to understand and explain unwanted events and behaviors in attempting to discourage them.

So, before entering into a debate ask these two questions of others and yourself:  am I explaining or arguing? And am I credible? It just might help. In fact a team would do well to examine the differences as an exercise. To see how, click here.