How to Win an Argument – A Brief Guide and Sneaky Tactics

Arguments Made Simple

On one hand, you want to win an argument. After all, that might be why you started it. And on the other hand, the best way to win an argument is to never have one.

This article shows how to how to win an argument by not having one.

Of course, only a few, rare, special people will find these techniques useful.

If you’re someone who wants harmony, lasting relationships, and real solutions, then welcome.

This article shows the techniques and concepts that I presented in management training workshops, which I conducted during 1992 – 2010 for leaders in major corporations.

My goal in all these workshops was to show leaders how to achieve success without harming others.

Definition: How to Win an Argument

What’s Wrong With an Argument?

An argument is inherently destined for failure. Here’s why.

1. No one wants to lose an argument.

  • An argument is more than a verbal contest.
  • It’s a struggle for control, which in turn is a struggle for freedom.
  • The winner gains control, and the loser loses it.
  • Arguments are a problem because no one wants to lose their freedom, especially in matters that relate to their personal affairs.

2. In order for you to be right, someone else must be wrong.

  • An argument is a Win / Lose contest.
  • The winner is right. The loser is wrong.

3. No one wants to be wrong.

  • Losing is humiliating.
  • That creates resentments, which damages the trust needed for a healthy relationship.

4. People seldom concede an argument because they agree.

  • Some people will persist with their view to avoid the disgrace of losing.

5. Arguments quickly degrade into battles.

  • When logic fails, some people resort to manipulation. Then the winner prevails by acting more offensive, more illogical, or more violent.
  • Then the Win / Lose the argument, becomes a Lose / Lose war.

What Is an Argument?

An argument is a conversation involving two or more people who are each attempting to prove they’re right.

The Problem

Books on Emotional Intelligence (Maturity)

  • Mature people avoid arguments.
  • They have conversations instead.
  • These books show how mature people resolve challenges.

Considerations

Why Arguments Are a Bad Approach

1. Everyone thinks they are right.

  • If you doubt this, conduct a survey. Visit a dozen people and ask them if they think they’re right. Make this interesting by asking people whom you think are completely different from you (i.e., wrong).
  • All of them will claim to be right. Some of them may even support this contention by explaining why your views are wrong.

2. Everyone might be right.

  • It’s possible that everyone has the best (or at least a workable) solution.
  • Or, they have ideas that make sense for them. Thus, they’re right.
  • Sometimes, the only differences between right and wrong may be the words used to describe an idea, the sequence of steps, or the person who gains credit for the idea.

3. You might be wrong.

  • In fact, everyone might be wrong.
  • There is always more to know.
  • There are always other considerations, other possibilities, other news.
  • Life is a multiple answer test, not a True / False quiz.

What’s Needed

An Effective Conversation Requires:

1. Maturity

  • Mature people are able to be respectful, diplomatic, and kind.
  • They are able to accept responsibility for their actions.
  • They are able to acknowledge and talk about their feelings.
  • They are able to seek mutually agreeable solutions through consensus.
  • They are able to feel compassion for others.
  • They are willing to compromise.
  • They are willing to share control with others.

2. Courage

  • Courage demonstrates inner strength.
  • It’s the ability to accept ambiguity, uncertainty, and unknowns.
  • It’s the ability to acknowledge being uninformed, helpless, and wrong.
  • It’s the ability to share control, freedom, and power.
  • It’s the ability to be tender, loving, and kind.
  • It’s the ability to be vulnerable, honest, and authentic.

Note: People admire this type of courage because it leads to solutions.

3. Real love

  • Real love is something that you do (instead of something that you feel or receive).
  • Real love is a way of living.
  • Real love strives to help the other person, with respect and kindness.

4. A Common interest

  • Common interests are greater and more important than any individual goal.
  • They unify. They bind people together. They inspire cooperation.
  • Common interests might be things such as 1) Overall success, 2) Mutual happiness, or 3) An organization’s mission.

5. Respect

  • Everyone wants to be treated with respect, dignity, and kindness. It makes them feel safer and more cooperative.
  • On the other hand, people become less cooperative when they are treated with disrespect.

6. Shared power

  • Shared power is the foundation for a sustainable relationship.
  • People who attempt to gain too much control, actually end up with less control over vital quality of life matters.

What Works

Basic Guidelines

1. Assume the other person is right

  • In turn, let go of attempting to prove that you’re right.
  • Instead, work to understand each other so that you can find a mutually beneficial solution.

2. Treat the other person with respect

  • In fact, go beyond respect. Treat the other person with loving kindness.
  • Then work to help the other person excel.

3. Be compassionate

  • Recognize that the other person is a human being, just like you. They have feelings, wants, and needs.
  • They also make mistakes as they attempt to understand the situation and express their ideas. This is a natural part of discovery.
  • Recognize that sometimes people need to hear themselves express an idea as part of testing its validity.
  • Thus accept and forgive the other person’s humanness. Offer support, working as a loving partner toward a best solution.

Consider this: We earn respect and compassion by giving them first.

4. Compromise

  • Recognize that there are no total victories.
  • Anything that decreases someone else’s freedom will eventually lead to troubles.
  • The key point here is: Workable solutions include the needs of both sides.

More Guidelines

1. Avoid “Not”

  • Talk about what you want and how you want things to be. Such forward thinking is courageous, stronger, and more powerful.
  • On the other hand, negative ideas are weak and subject to repair (or attack). For example:
  • I won’t do that. [Implies a lack of flexibility, cooperation, or imagination. Invites suggestions to help you do something.]
  • I can’t do that. [Implies incompetence, ineptitude, or weakness. Invites suggestions to help you overcome your limitations.]
  • I don’t do that. [Implies rigidity, narrow thinking, or selfishness. Invites suggestions to help you change your values.]
  • Some of you may be wondering how to respond to absurd ideas.
  • I think it’s preferable to respond by stating what you want.
  • For example, if someone suggested that I send a text message while driving, I’d respond by stating that I rather pay attention to the traffic.

2. Avoid “But”

  • When “But” is used in the middle of a sentence, it negates the preceding thought.
  • Notice the difference between these two statements.
  • I like your idea but I think we should do something else.
  • I understand your idea and here’s another possibility.

3. Talk about yourself

  • That is, talk about what you want and how you feel.
  • The other side of this is very important. Never talk about the other person. That’s their job.
  • Specifically, never state their motives, abilities, or intelligence. For example, avoid statements such as:
  • Are you trying to make me mad?
  • You don’t understand this.
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • Also, avoid trick questions such as,
  • What kind of idiot would do something like that?
  • All of these are manipulations that ruin conversations.

4. Use neutral words

  • Some words imply fault, failings, or insults.
  • For example, notice the difference between these statements.
  • What happened? versus What went wrong?
  • What would you like to do? versus What are you trying to do?
  • Am I making sense? versus Do you understand what I’m saying?
  • Admittedly, the differences are subtle. And they matter.

How to Talk Toward Solutions

1. Be respectful

  • Respect is the foundation for an effective conversation. And so:
  • – Use kind words.
  • – Assume positive intentions.
  • – Be diplomatic.
  • – Offer sincere praise.
  • – Be curious.
  • – Accept differences.

2. Ask questions

  • Use questions to define the situation, understand what the other person wants, and uncover considerations.
  • Possible questions include:
  • What do you want?
  • How do you want to do this?
  • What part of this is important?

3. Listen

  • The key to effective listening is paying attention to what the person is saying.
  • At a basic level, listen to understand. Listen with detachment. Listen with compassion.
  • At a more advanced level, listen in ways that help the other person express ideas by showing interest and asking gentle guiding questions.

4. Talk

  • Talking involves exchanging ideas, sharing feelings, and exploring options.
  • Ideally, strive for a balanced conversation. Then each person talks for less than half of the conversation. If one person fills more than half the conversation, that person may be dominating the other.
  • The extra (leftover) time is there for reflection and rest.

5. Use Silence

  • Pause briefly before starting to talk. This makes sure the other person has finished speaking. Sometimes, the other person will think of another idea after hearing what they just said.
  • Silence will also slow a conversation, which is useful when the topic feels stressful.

6. Make a list

  • Most issues have many solutions.
  • So write a list of them. Begin with the other person’s ideas, then add your own.
  • Once you have the list, compare the ideas.
  • Identify their implications and value in achieving a mutually beneficial solution.

7. Be candid

  • That is, tell your truth.
  • Ask for what you want. Tell what you need.
  • Describe how you feel.
  • Recognize that being candid involves being vulnerable.

8. Offer praise

  • Thank the other person for their ideas. Show admiration. Encourage with praise.
  • Recognize that you will obtain your best solution when you both work at your best.

9. Stop when you’re stuck

  • Some issues require many conversations to resolve. These conversations may go on over an extended time, such as months.
  • The key is that both sides are working toward finding a solution, rather than manipulating the outcome with delays.

Why Respect and Kindness Work

  • People are more creative when they feel safe.
  • They are more generous when they feel powerful.
  • They are more helpful when they feel happy.
  • Note: Great leaders create a safe environment that facilitates excellence beyond anyone’s expectations.

Important Reality

  • Different people will always have different ideas, values, and approaches.
  • These differences are good because they help uncover novel solutions.
  • The key to success in every conversation is to attack the problem, rather than attack the person.

What Doesn’t Work

bad relationship

Manipulations Ruin Relationships

Manipulations are physical and verbal techniques that are designed to ruin a conversation.

People who use manipulations are attempting to bully their way into winning. Or they may be trying to avoid working on the issue.

Manipulations are especially destructive because they do more than ruin dialogue, they also ruin relationships.

Eventually, the target person becomes fed up with being hurt and leaves.

Here are common manipulations with possible responses.

Recognize that there is no magic answer here.

Some people (such as addicts and those with mental illnesses) are almost immune to any attempt to seek cooperation. Their illness will do anything to protect itself. As a result, they are immune to logic and compassion.

Thus, attempting to argue with a “crazy” person will make you crazy. In fact, that’s what such a person wants: To disable your ability to confront their behavior.

It’s important to recognize that most manipulations are unintentional. That is, the person using them believes that: 1) The manipulations seem appropriate, or 2) They worked in the past.

If challenged, the person will defend manipulations as having been misunderstood or caused by the target person.

For example, this person might say, “You weren’t paying attention to what I said.” Now the topic has shifted to defending your ability to pay attention.

I’ll add one more point here. Even mature people can become upset when threats and manipulations continue beyond what they can handle. Then they’ll fight back in an attempt to protect themselves. In this case, the person using manipulations has achieved an emotional victory by baiting a good person into bad behavior.

Then the good person suffers regret, shame, and lost credibility.

And the problem person can claim the good person ruined the conversation.

The point: Leave before you are baited into making a mistake.

1. Facial expressions

  • The other person makes a face showing surprise, disgust, disbelief, or some inappropriate reaction. This is designed to make you angry, which weakens your ability to be rational.
  • Respond by reflecting the emotion conveyed, such as You seem surprised. You seem to have expected something else. You seem disappointed.

2. Accusations

  • The person makes an untrue statement about you. This is designed to: a) Upset you with an insult, and b) Cause you to abandon the original topic to deny the accusation.
  • Respond by asking a question. How does that relate to what we’re talking about? Where did you learn that?
  • Or, state, That’s not true. What makes you say that?
  • If the other person continues with more accusations, the conversation is over.

3. Insults

  • Insults include name calling, vulgar words, or accusations. These are designed to upset you, thereby diminishing your ability to continue.
  • You might make one attempt to put the conversation back on track by saying, I find that offensive. What do you hope to gain by saying that?
  • If the insults continue, the conversation is over.

4. Passive aggression

Passive aggression can appear in many ways, such as sarcasm, vague statements, inaccurate claims, false apologies, inappropriate praise, implied insults, and so on. These statements are designed to weaken your ability to participate, distract you, or lure you into making a mistake.

Usually, you will be part way into dealing with such statements before you discover that you have been set up for a failure.

These are especially bad because most are so vague that the other person can easily escape by feigning innocence or by claiming that you misunderstood what was said.

Respond by asking questions, such as: What did you mean when you said [repeat the statement]? Then ask for cooperation. We need to work together on this.

5. Violence

This includes shouting or any use of physical force. Threats are a form of implied violence. Any form of violence is designed to scare you into complying.

There is no response to violence because the conversation is over. If you are unable to leave, call for help.

6. Crazy making

Here the other person distorts history. It might sound like, I was the calm one. You were the one who got upset. (when you cried after being yelled at).

These are designed to create doubt or distract you into defending what really happened.

There is no response to this, especially mean manipulation. The conversation is over.

7. Emotional Blackmail

This manipulation develops during a relationship. It occurs when one person uses anger, disapproval, or disrespect to terrorize the other person.

Emotional blackmail then becomes a form of control.

The target person becomes afraid of saying or doing something that might cause another attack.

Recognize there can be no escape from emotional blackmail. The manipulator can invent new “rules” or change expectations so that the target person is always wrong.

If you find yourself a target of emotional blackmail, you can: 1) Attempt to protect yourself by setting boundaries for acceptable behavior, or 2) Leave the relationship.

What Do You Do When You’re Being Manipulated

1. Leave

Manipulations are a form of violence. They are designed to lure you into making mistakes.

Make one attempt to correct the conversation and then leave.

2. Seek help

Find a professional who specializes in the type of problem that you are trying to solve.

Note: Friends may offer advice. Family members may tell you to ignore the problem. Neither of these leads to a solution.

Seek professional help.

3. Use a mediator

A professional mediator knows how to facilitate a conversation toward a solution.

Interview three, then select the one who seems most likely to provide equitable help.

Protecting Yourself From Manipulation

I own the first book, and it’s excellent. You may be shocked by the tricks people use to control or cripple others.

I just put the second book on my wish list.

These Techniques Work for Every Age Group

I’ve known Marv Marshall for almost 20 years. His books are excellent resources.

Although these books were written to help educators and parents, they contain ideas that work with adults. Thus, they belong on every leader’s desk.

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