What is the Rogerian Method?
The Rogerian Method of Argumentation is a conflict-resolution technique that you can use to build common ground while still stating your position. It’s a less aggressive form of argumentation than, say, the Toulmin method or 5-paragraph essay, where a claim is made with little regard to the feelings of someone who opposes your view. With the Rogerian Method, the goal is to build toward a common understanding, to open you and the person you are speaking to towards new ideas, but not necessarily to change their mind.
Even though the goal isn’t necessarily to change the person you are speaking to’s mind, the Rogerian method is still considered a form of argumentation since you are persuading your opponent to at least respect your point of view.
When Do I Use the Rogerian Method?
The Rogerian Method is especially effective when addressing highly controversial issues where you or the person you are speaking to may have a tendency to be highly emotional. In order to avoid slinging insults or false claims, the Rogerian method can help to come to a common understanding or at least a mutual respect for each others’ opinions, even if the two of you will never fully agree with the other’s opinion.
How Does the Rogerian Method Work?
When writing in the Rogerian method, you need to be ultra-conscious of your opponent’s view; the goal is to clearly state the source of conflict or opposing ideologies, recognize the validity of your opponent’s view, and then position your argument as equally valid. One way you might think about the order of your paper is like this:
- Introduction: Address the problem at hand, identifying what the source in conflict is and why there are multiple ways of looking at the issue;
- Opposing View: Identify the overarching view of your component. If your opponent’s view is complex (this will be determined by the topic at hand), you may wish to just give a brief synopsis at this point, then clarify later. If your opponent’s view is easily explained in two ore three paragraphs, go ahead and describe it in it’s entirety.
- Validation of Opponent’s View: As a way to show respect an understanding, point out why your opponent’s view is logical. State the view as you understand it and how you recognize why someone could feel or think the way they do.
- Your Position: After clarifying that you understand their perspective, shift politely to suggest what your view is on the matter. Again, if your view is complex, simply state the overarching point in 1 – 3 paragraphs.
- Validation of Your Position: Elaborate now on why your position also makes sense. Provide convincing evidence and sound reasoning as to why your argument should also be considered. While you may be trying to persuade your reader that your idea is better than theirs, don’t explicitly state that or you’ll often lose the respect and mutual understanding you’re working towards.
- Argument Back-and-Forth: If the problem/issue at hand is sufficiently complex that it would help your reader to follow the argumentation by taking the argument in broken-down segments, move back and forth between their sub-arguments and your sub-arguments, always validating their point of view while showing convincing evidence as to why your point of view is also very strong.
- Benefits of Your Position: As you conclude, summarize your position, moving your reader towards knowing why that position is beneficial in some way.
While you may or may not convince a person that you are right when arguing in the Rogerian method, the goal is to at least show that you have compelling reasons why someone should respect your opinion; but if you give enough convincing evidence, you may just change their mind!
Rogerian theorist Douglas Brent has stated that it’s important to not be too prescriptive when writing in the Rogerian method. There isn’t a precise step-by-step formula, though it may help to look at the steps below to think about how you move from problem to opposing position to your position to conclusion.
Example of the Rogerian Method
Imagine you are writing a paper about freedom of religion and you hold the view that religion should be permitted to be openly practiced in public schools and government-run organizations. You have opponents, however, that claim there should be a strict separation of church and state and that, especially in schools, discussing or practicing religions marginalizes groups and may make children and other groups susceptible to being taught a belief structure in a place that should be religiously neutral.
In a case like this, your goal would be to recognize your opponent’s viewpoints, stating an understanding of the issues they perceive with allowing religious perspectives to be shared freely in schools. You would validate their opinion through anecdotes, interviews, and other primary and secondary research. You would then position yourself to state your opinion, giving evidence that may draw from similar types of sources. While you are giving equal weight to each argument, you are making a rhetorical move towards your opinion as you finish with your opinion and the ultimate benefits of your position.
When most of us think of argument, we think about winners of arguments and losers of arguments. Arguments, even sometimes academic arguments, can be strong and forceful. An Aristotelian or classical argument is a strong, “this is my assertion and here’s why I am right” kind of argument. But that kind of argument isn’t going to work in all situations. When your audience is a really difficult one in the sense that you know your audience isn’t going to completely agree with your side of the issue, it can be a good idea to try to find a middle ground. The Rogerian argument finds that middle ground.
Based on the work of psychologist Carl Rogers(pictured on the right), a Rogerian argument focuses on finding a middle ground between the author and the audience. This type of argument can be extremely persuasive and can help you, as a writer, understand your own biases and how you might work to find common ground with others.
Here is a summary of the basic strategy for a Rogerian argument, and the infographic on the following page should be helpful as well.
- In your essay, first, introduce the problem.
- Acknowledge the other side before you present your side of the issue. This may take several paragraphs.
- Next, you should carefully present your side of the issue in a way that does not dismiss the other side. This may also take several paragraphs.
- You should then work to bring the two sides together. Help your audience see the benefits of the middle ground. Make your proposal for the middle ground here, and be sure to use an even, respectful tone. This should be a key focus of your essay and may take several paragraphs.
- Finally, in your conclusion, remind your audience of the balanced perspective you have presented and make it clear how both sides benefit when they meet in the middle.
For a visual representation of this type of argument, check out the Rogerian infographic on the next page.