Rogerian Argument Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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. 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 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, Rhetoric: Discovery and Change. Harcourt, 1970)

Format of Rogerian Argument

The ideal format of a written Rogerian persuasion looks something like this.(Richard M. Coe, Form and Substance: An Advanced Rhetoric. Wiley, 1981)

  • Introduction. . . . Try presenting [your topic] as a problem rather than as an issue.
  • Fair Statement of the Opposing Position. The goal here is to convince your readers that you understand their perspective by stating their position in a way they will recognize as fair and accurate.
  • Statement of Contexts in Which That Position May Be Valid. Here you are trying to convince your readers that you understand how they could hold their position by suggesting that in certain contexts it has some validity.
  • Fair Statement of Your Own Position. Although you want to state your position convincingly, you also want to maintain your image as fair-minded. Your immediate goal is to get your readers to reciprocate, to understand your position as fairly and thoroughly as you have understood theirs.
  • Statement of Contexts in Which Your Position Is Valid. Here you are trying to induce your readers to look at the problem from new perspectives and hence to see it in contexts they may previously have ignored.
  • Statement of How Readers Would Benefit by Adopting at Least Elements of Your Position. Here you are appealing to your readers' self-interest, at least in the broader, long-term sense. You are trying to transform your position from a threat to a promise.

    Flexibility of Rogerian Argument

    "Depending on the complexity of the issue, the extent to which people are divided about it, and the points you want to argue, any part of a Rogerian argument can be expanded. It is not necessary to devote precisely the same amount of space to each part. You should try to make your case as balanced as possible, however. If you seem to give only superficial consideration to the views of others and then linger at length on your own, you are defeating the purpose of a Rogerian argument" (Robert P. Yagelski and Robert Keith Miller, The Informed Argument, 8th ed. Wadsworth, 2012)

    Feminist Responses to Rogerian Argument

    "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'). In composition studies, the concept appears most between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s." (Edith H. Babin and Kimberly Harrison, Contemporary Composition Studies: A Guide to Theorists and Terms. Greenwood, 1999)