How to Win an Argument in 10 Sneaky, Sure-fire Steps

How to Win an Argument in 10 Sneaky, Sure-fire Steps
How to Win an Argument in 10 Sneaky, Sure-fire Steps

10 Tips To Win Every Argument

Arguments are inevitable.  While we love the idea of getting on with our fellow man and living in a world of sweetness and light there is no denying human nature.  There will always be disagreements, they have been with us as part of human life since our ancestors gathered round a camp fire.  They are such an important part of our life that we have even codified the rules and regulations about how to argue.  Companies in dispute can go to the commercial courts, warring couples can go to the family and divorce courts and so on and so forth.

Sometimes arguments can be fun – discussing the best team with a good friend before the Super Bowl for example.  In other cases arguments can be very necessary but not enjoyable, a way of pressing your case with a key supplier at work, for example, to make sure that you are not being over charged.  Still other arguments are depressing and upsetting, such as arguing custody and maintenance conditions with a former spouse.

Because arguments are such an important part of life it is important to know how to argue well so that you come out the best in any situation.  The tips and tricks set out below will show you how to come out on top every time you argue.  Some will come easily while others will need a little bit more practice but the more of the strategies set out below that you try to implement the more successful you are likely to be when you argue.

  1. Be Logical

Wear some nerdy glasses. At least you'll look logical.
Wear some nerdy glasses. At least you’ll look logical.

Logic can help you to win almost every argument you find yourself having.  While emotions often run high whenever a dearly held position is challenged it is vital to maintain a clear head and allow logic to guide you.

When you are defending a position make sure that you have access to all the facts necessary to back up your argument.  Using logic gather all the facts together in a way that ensures they support each other and lead logically to the solution you espouse.  If your opponent challenges a point that you make, use logic rather than emotion to defend your interests.

The wonderful thing about using logic as the basis to defend your case and to undermine your opponents is that you can build consensus.  Using uncontroversial statements and positions to get your opponent to agree with you (see below) you start to build a framework around the topic under discussion that you and your opponent have in common.  This helps to narrow down the points on which you disagree making you appear reasonable.  Because your arguments on the disputed points will build logically upon the framework you have agreed it will be more difficult for your opponent to dispute the value or accuracy of your positon.

  1. Stay Calm

Stay calm. Like the opposite of this.
Stay calm. Like the opposite of this.

Passions run high in many arguments, particularly those based on questions of religion or politics or, of course, relationships.  When passions run high it is easy for logic (see above) to take a back seat which ends up weakening an argument.  As passions rise ever higher it is all too easy to become entrenched in an opinion, even when it is demonstrably wrong.  This makes you look overly emotional, weak and often stupid.  This starts a vicious cycle, you feel that you have been made to look stupid so you feel under attack, this makes you ever more emotional in your defense of an untenable position.

The trick is to try to remain as dispassionate as possible so that your logical arguments in favor of your position are able to shine through.  It can be intimidating to argue with someone who shouts or speaks aggressively loud but keep your voice low and even.  This means that others have to quieten down in order to listen to what you have to say and shows that you will not descend to their level of argument by raising your voice.  In effect it gives you the moral high ground.

Psychologically the fact that you have not felt the need to enter into a shouting match shows your opponent (and any observers) that you have confidence in your position and that you are wise enough to prefer reasoned debate to verbal bullying.

Think back to the times when you have been persuaded to agree with an opponent, did they belittle you, attack you and make you feel under attack or did they remain calm and avoid resorting to temper to get their way?  Most likely they were calm and reasoned so try to do the same thing.

  1. Be Persuasive

Use your sweet mind control skills.
Use your sweet mind control skills.

This is the natural extension to using logic to build a framework for an argument and remaining calm and polite when advocating your position.

Browbeating someone into agreeing with you might win you an argument on the day but it is more than likely that you have not really won anything and that they are just saying they agree to shut you up!  They will almost certainly not have changed their mind on the topic.  This is often the case with relationship based arguments where couples come back to the same fight again and again.  They never really resolve anything and neither party ever truly understand the position the other holds or why.

Being persuasive is all about changing the ‘must win at any cost’ mentality that often surrounds highly charged arguments.  Persuasion is a very powerful tool, so powerful it can be used to influence elections or encourage sales teams to work more efficiently without even knowing it.  We are not suggesting that you use subtle tricks of persuasion to get people to do things they don’t want to (although if you can do this good luck to you!) but rather that you present your argument in such a manner that you convince your opponent of the value of what you are saying.

Persuasion is not a difficult skill to learn and employing points 7 and 6 below will help you ensure that your argument is as persuasive and effective as possible.

  1. Get Your Opponent To Agree With You

Some people take more convincing than others. Wear a nice bandanna.
Some people take more convincing than others. Wear a nice bandanna.

We have already spoken about some of the key skills you need to win an argument.  If you are following the hints and tips above by staying calm and using logic and persuasion this tip should be very easy to implement.

Whatever point you are arguing about, whether it is a negotiation with a supplier at work or about who should load the dishwasher there are going to be some points on which you and your opponent will be able to agree.  When you are framing your argument look for these areas of common ground, even if you have to go back to absolute basics, for example ‘we agree that the contractual relationship started on x date’ or ‘putting out the trash is a horrible job’.

Using such simple statements to build consensus will help to get your opponent out of the mindset of arguing for the sake of arguing.  As we saw above when people get passionate about a topic they can become entrenched in their opinions.  When they start to agree with you on simple points they become more psychologically predisposed to agree on more contentious issues.

You can take this tactic even further, don’t just get your opponent to agree with you but try practicing the art of extreme agreement. Research in Israel has shown that when someone agrees with a belief and draws it out to its extreme conclusion they can start to see what the end result of their belief will be and are therefore much more likely to change their position.  When someone takes an extreme stance try asking them to explain how their views could be put into practice.

  1. Concede Points Graciously When Necessary

Be gracious.
Be gracious.

Nobody likes a sore loser and if you keep arguing your point even when you know that you are wrong you just make yourself look idiotic and mange to weaken the rest of your argument by association.  If you find out that a fact you have relied on is wrong, out of date or otherwise inaccurate or if you find yourself changing your mind own up to it as quickly as possible.  While there is no need to be overly dramatic you should be gracious in defeat.

If you fail to concede a point that you have already lost you might end up losing twice.  For example you lose the point you are trying to make (because you are manifestly and obviously wrong) but you also end up losing any chance at a relationship with the person with whom you are arguing.  If the argument is work based and contractual in nature you might end up losing your employers a key client or contact.  If the argument is relationship based you might stand to lose a while lot more!

While many people might be concerned that conceding some points will weaken the key aspects of their argument this is generally not the case.  Showing that you are mature enough and strong enough in your core beliefs to acknowledge when you are wrong means that your opponents will see that you are serious when you stick to your other points.

  1. Stick To The Topic At Hand

Hey look a squirrel! Gotcha. Stay on topic and stay focused.
Hey look a squirrel! Gotcha. Stay on topic and stay focused.

It can be very tempting, while in the middle of an argument, to go off on a tangent.  One thought leads to another and before you know it you are speaking about something completely different altogether. This is a bad thing for a number of reasons.

Firstly going off on a tangent might lead you to comment on areas that you do not know or have not researched quite as well as the topic at hand and this can lead you to make mistakes which you will have to own up to putting yourself on the back foot.

Secondly rambling into a separate topic area is often a sign of weakness, of someone who does not really believe in the strength of their argument or have a thorough understanding of the evidence to back it up.  If you feel that you are doing this, reign yourself in and return to the main subject of the argument.  If you notice your opponent moving onto a different topic it is a great sign, it means that they know that they are weak and you stand a good chance of winning the argument.  Steer them back to the topic at hand.  Whatever they say or however persuasive they try to be in moving the conversation on, do not let this happen.  Acknowledge what they are saying but always return back to the subject of the argument.  This will make them feel uncomfortable and might even be enough to prompt them to become emotional and abandon logic!

  1. Probe The Truths Of The Statements Your Opponent Makes

Probe that truth like a Proctologist!
Probe that truth like a Proctologist!

Most people who argue will rely on facts to bolster their position. This is the case in both domestic and professional arguments.  Whether the facts are ‘I have put the trash out every day since we were married and washed all the dishes and cleaned the toilets with no help whatsoever’, climate change evidence is unreliable because of the proxy used to gather evidence’ or ‘returns from your department were down in the last quarter because of your excessive reliance on outdated technology’ you should probe every statement of fact that your opponent makes during the argument.

Do not let a single fact pass without getting them to elaborate and justify it. ‘What about the times you have worked late, the times you were sick and when your mother came to stay, I did the trash and dishes then’, ‘can you please explain which proxy data you are referring to and why it is mistaken’ or ‘could you please demonstrate the statistical basis for the analysis proving our returns were down, our figures show that they were at par’.

While your opponent will almost certainly be able to provide evidence to back up most of their facts they will struggle to justify every single one, particularly if they have fallen into the trap of using emotion rather than logic in their arguments.  Of course you must also make sure that you do not refer to any statement or fact that you cannot back up with evidence or you will be vulnerable to the same type of attack.  This method of argument is known as the Socratic Method and is extremely effective, not only does it help lead your opponent to uncover the fallacies in their own argument but it can help to prevent arguments from escalating into heated exchanges.

  1. Avoid Ad Hominem Attacks

Name calling has its place. Use sparingly.
Name calling has its place. Use sparingly.

An Ad Hominem attack is a direct attack on your opponent in person and it usually stems from a position of weakness.  Never, ever badmouth or needle your opponent, don’t try to wind them up but rather concentrate on attacking their argument instead of their personality.

Think about arguments you have observed others have, whenever someone starts to attack their opponent personally it makes them look weak.  This is because it shows, more than almost any other method of argument, that the person in question has run out of factual arguments to defend or advance their positon and has had to revert to name-calling.

There are some (limited) circumstances when an ad hominem argument is justified and can help you advance your position.  This is when the character claims you are making are germane to the actions or statements made by your opponent.  It’s appropriate to mention that a politician on an anti-corruption task force has been involved in shady deals!

In general, however, it is best to avoid any type of personal attack, if your opponent attacks you in that manner it can be tempting to retaliate but you will only make yourself look bad in the process.  Use such attacks against you to bolster your own position, if your opponent is calling you names it is because they know they do not have a leg to stand on in defense of their position.

  1. Use Silence Wisely

Keep your mouth shut when it matters.
Keep your mouth shut when it matters.

When you are engaged in an argument with others it can be extremely tempting to think that the more you talk the more you are keeping up the pressure on your opponent.  We have all seen people like that, those who talk relentlessly, fire off question after question and then start talking over their opponent before they have finished making their point.

This may be an effective bullying tactic and can help fluster your opponent but silence can be just as powerful.  Silence is an extremely important tool that, when used well, can have a tremendous impact on many areas of your life and work.

Most people do not like long silences; it unnerves them and makes them feel that they need to do something, anything to fill it.  Simply say what you have to say and then shut up, let your opponent respond but, when they have finished, stay quiet.  This will not only make them feel uncomfortable but may also lead them to believe that you think they have not yet said or done enough to answer your point.  Because they are on the back foot they are more likely to say something ill-considered in order to fill the awkward silence and this might be just enough to give you the opening you need to demolish their position.  Sometimes the only thing you need to be able to do in order to win an argument is to know when to say nothing at all!

  1. Know Your Opponent

Use your opponents thoughts, beliefs, and emotions against them!
Use your opponents opinions, beliefs, and emotions against them!

Of course the chances are that you will not be engaging in an argument with someone from the street (or at least we hope not) and therefore it is likely that you know your opponent in terms of who they are and what they do.  In some cases, such as arguments with long term friends or members of your family you might know them very well indeed.  Knowing your opponent forms the basis of much of the advice given by Sun Tzu in his famous book The Art of War and it is as relevant now as it was when it is written and as applicable to the boardroom, bedroom and sports field as the field of battle.  If you are going to be entering a negotiation at work or know that you are likely to be in a situation where you need to argue your position try to research the person who will be up against you and find out as much as possible about them.

Use this knowledge to your advantage.  Think about what sort of things are important to them, are they logical or emotional?  Do they have very strong opinions on the matter in question and do they have weaknesses or specific tendencies that you can exploit in order to win your argument.  You can also use their core beliefs to appeal to their sense of honor, engineering a situation where you get them to agree with you and build consensus (see 7 above) and as a base from which you can persuade them to see the value in your point (see 8 above).  As you can see the more you know the more useful it will be.

So there you have our top 10 tips on how to win any and every argument that you find yourself in.  As you have seen many are intertwined and work well together; being logical, persuasive and calm (points 10, 9 and 8) for example, are very closely interconnected.  Logic helps you be persuasive and the calmer you are the more you will be able to employ logic and persuasion effectively.

Many of the tips here are useful skills that will stand you in good stead in almost any aspect of your life.  It is always good to know the people you are working or living with (point 1) and probing the underlying truth of statements people make to you is good practice (point 4).

Remember, however, that whenever you get into an argument you might not always want to win it.  Think always about what winning means to you.  Is it the short term satisfaction of knowing that you have been proved right or is it the ability to repair and then maintain a personal or commercial relationship after a dispute has arisen.  Your end goal may well determine the tactics you decide to use when prosecuting your argument.