How to “win” an Argument

Conflict isn’t exactly new. In fact, it’s pretty much been around ever since there were 2 people to have one. Yet despite the long history of conflicts that we could learn from most of us still find it a challenge to resolve one well. I want to offer some help on resolving one specific kind of conflict, the argument.

Arguments are not necessarily a bad thing. A good argument simply stems from excitement and passion for something. When you encounter someone similarly passionate who happens to think differently, an argument ensues. Passion is good, it drives us to excellence, but in an argument it can turn sour very quickly. That passion can become angry and malicious and then it becomes about putting yourself up and the other person down. In short, it becomes about your personal victory. Winning.

Arguments can be exceptionally detrimental. They can also be fuel for better ideas and solutions than you could have come up with otherwise. How do you express your possibly unpopular point in a way that it is heard but doesn’t cause harmful repercussions? How can you “win” without everybody losing?

Your argument is typically won or lost well before it ever happens. Your reasoning and rhetoric will only rarely if ever carry you successfully through an argument. So how do you “win” before you even start to argue? Here are 3 things you can do to set yourself up to argue successfully.

Know why you are arguing. This sounds very simple, but oftentimes our passion blinds us to underlying issues. Just ask any married couple if they’ve ever spent days arguing about something only to finally realize that the real issue was something else completely. You’ll probably get a laugh and an admission that yes that happened on more than one occasion. It happens in business too. Are you arguing for your proposal so hard because you truly think it’s the best idea or because you feel undervalued and want your contributions to be recognized? Those are very different conversations to have, so it is critical to make sure that you are having the right one.

 

Be selfless. That probably seems like an odd tip but if you are selfless your odds of “winning” arguments goes through the roof. What I mean by this is that you should be known for having a goal other than your own success or acclaim. Let me illustrate with an example.

There is a big project coming up at your company and several people have been called upon to put together some ideas for it. You, Susan, and Frank are among them. You know Frank to be very hardworking and that his ultimate goal is to become the company CEO. Susan you know to be selfless, she desires what is best for the company, not herself. In the meeting the three of you get in an argument about the merits and weaknesses of your plan. Both Frank and Susan take issue with several of your points and argue that there are better ways to do it. Who is more likely to persuade you?

For most of us, it is Susan. We would naturally feel safer with her because we trust that she only wants what’s best for the company. It is probably harder to take argument from Frank because what we know of him suggests that he may be making a personal power play. Selflessness builds credibility and safety.

It’s also pretty easy to see on a personal level. If my wife suggests a product for me I am much more likely to be persuaded by her than by the product’s salesperson. I trust my wife’s goal is my well-being, I suspect the salesperson’s goal of being the sale. Because my wife’s goal is clearly established as selfless, she is much more trustworthy.

None of this is to say that having a personal stake in an argument is a bad thing. Sometimes it is at the heart of the argument itself. But if you are known for selflessness then even when you do need to argue for something personally your audience will be much more receptive.

 

Take care of your body. Mostly that means eat well and get enough sleep. When we are faced with an argument our bodies instinctively treat it as a threatening situation which means your fight or flight response is triggered. Either response can be problematic and the more tired or hungry you are the less able you will be to overcome your chemical responses and make intelligent choices. By taking care of yourself you are essentially keeping yourself more physically capable of handling an argument.

 

Hopefully these tips help your voice be heard in the next argument you have and in the end, everyone wins.

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