Arguments fill the space available to them. With enough time people will disagree on even insubstantial things. More important decisions tend to have stronger time constraints. Thus the time spent arguing about something is inversely proportional to its importance.

Furthermore less important topics tend to be accessible to more people. That leads to entrenched factions which protract the argument further. This is the Law of Triviality.

Consider how hard it is to pick a movie or a restaurant with a group of friends when nobody has an urgent preference. Consider how much easier it is when you are starving or have a strong preference for a film.

To maintain the proper sense of urgency it helps to decide in advance of a discussion how much time to spend on it.

You can also forego arguments entirely by designating a clear decision maker. That could be a manager in a workplace or a system like rotating who picks the movie. The most powerful line for the decision maker comes from Jim Barksdale: “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

But even with a clear decision maker it can be hard to make a call when the choices aren’t very differentiated.” The harder it is to make a decision, the closer to equivalent your options are.” I propose three strategies to make those close calls easier:

  1. The easiest choice. Which restaurant is closest? Which movie starts at the optimal time?
  2. The best choice. Which restaurant is most expensive? Which movie has the highest rating?
  3. The common choice. Which restaurant do you usually go to? Which movie has the most show times?

Sometimes there are hard choices that need a lot of discussion and we should make space for those. Sadly, that isn’t what we spend most of our time arguing over. The biggest opportunity for each of us is to realize when we are in such a trivial argument. We should bow out even if that means the decision goes in a different direction than we hoped.