Rogerian Argument: Definition and Examples

Rogerian argument is a negotiating strategy in which common goals are identified and opposing views are described as objectively as possible in an effort to establish common ground and reach agreement. It is also known as Rogerian rhetoric, Rogerian argumentation, Rogerian persuasion, and empathic listening.

Whereas traditional argument focuses on winning, the Rogerian model seeks a mutually satisfactory solution.

The Rogerian model of argument was adapted from the work of American psychologist Carl Rogers by the composition scholars Richard Young, Alton Becker, and Kenneth Pike in their textbook "Rhetoric: Discovery and Change" (1970).

Aims of Rogerian Argument

The authors of "Rhetoric: Discovery and Change" explain the process this way:

"The writer who uses the Rogerian strategy attempts to do three things: (1) to convey to the reader that he is understood, (2) to delineate the area within which he believes the reader's position to be valid, and (3) to induce him to believe that he and the writer share similar moral qualities (honesty, integrity, and good will) and aspirations (the desire to discover a mutually acceptable solution). We stress here that these are only tasks, not stages of the argument. Rogerian argument has no conventional structure; in fact, users of the strategy deliberately avoid conventional persuasive structures and techniques because these devices tend to produce a sense of threat, precisely what the writer seeks to overcome....
"The goal of Rogerian argument is to create a situation conducive to cooperation; this may well involve changes in both your opponent's image and your own." (Richard E. Young, Alton L. Becker, and Kenneth L. Pike. Harcourt, 1970)

Format of Rogerian Argument

When presenting your case and the case of the other side, the style is flexible with how you set up your information and how long you spend on each section. But you do want to be balanced—spending an inordinate amount of time on your position and only giving lip service to the other side, for example, defeats the purpose of using the Rogerian style. The ideal format of a written Rogerian persuasion looks something like this (Richard M. Coe, "Form and Substance: An Advanced Rhetoric." Wiley, 1981):

  • Introduction: Present the topic as a problem to solve together, rather than an issue.
  • Opposing position: State the opinion of your opposition in an objective manner that's fair and accurate, so the "other side" knows that you understand its position.
  • Context for the opposing position: Show the opposition that you understand under what circumstances its position is valid.
  • Your position: Present your position objectively. Yes, you want to be convincing, but you want the opposition to see it with clarity and fairly as well, just as you presented its position earlier.
  • Context for your position: Show the opposition contexts in which your position is also valid.
  • Benefits: Appeal to the opposition and show how elements of your position could work to benefit its interests.

You use one type of rhetoric when discussing your position with people who already agree with you. To discuss your position with the opposition, you need to tone that down and break it into objective elements, so the sides can more easily see areas of common ground. Taking the time to state the opposing side's arguments and contexts means the opposition has less reason to get defensive and stop listening to your ideas.

Feminist Responses to Rogerian Argument

In the 1970s and into the early 1990s, some debate existed about whether women should use this conflict-solving technique.

"Feminists are divided on the method: some see Rogerian argument as feminist and beneficial because it appears less antagonistic than traditional Aristotelian argument. Others argue that when used by women, this type of argument reinforces the 'feminine' stereotype, since historically women are viewed as nonconfrontational and understanding (see especially Catherine E. Lamb's 1991 article 'Beyond Argument in Freshman Composition' and Phyllis Lassner's 1990 article 'Feminist Responses to Rogerian Argument')." (Edith H. Babin and Kimberly Harrison, "Contemporary Composition Studies: A Guide to Theorists and Terms." Greenwood, 1999)