We all love to argue, but all too often an argument ends in a yelling match, hurt feelings and sometimes even a fist fight! Surviving arguments with egos and friendships intact, is an art form most of us could benefit from mastering. Winning arguments is so much more fun too.
To help you improve in this arena of the oldest of human competitions, we’ve pulled together some of the most essential steps to winning the argument battle, without losing the war.
Taking heed of all of the following will not only help you in future debates, but you will build confidence more generally and never fear another confrontation of words.
Stay Calm and Steady
You should never raise your voice when debating. Remain calm and steady at all times. It is not true that the one who shouts loudest overcomes all arguments. In fact the opposite is true. Shouting signals loss of control and loss of control results from loss of reason. When people can’t rationalize their way out of a debate, they often resort to trying to drown out the other person’s responses. Speaking quieter than normal, is also a good way to draw people in and make you appear more level-headed and rational. If the other person begins to shout, allow them to finish, pause and proceed again calmly and more quietly. This often helps them reset their emotional temperament. An argument is seldom won by the person with the loudest voice, but by the one with the most rational position.
Get Them On Your Side
Try to get your opponent on your side right away, by making statements you know they can agree with; putting you in a stronger position in the debate. You don’t even need to use facts relating to your topic of debate – you could for example, in a debate about politics state: “I am sure you can agree with me about things like gasoline being overpriced”. When your opponent agrees, you have won important points in a psychological battle. You are perceived less as the opponent, and more like a friend, or associate.
Never Blatantly Attack
It’s never a good idea to blatantly tell your opponent they’re wrong. Try showing they are wrong through good counter-arguments. Accusing people of being wrong simply annoys them and will defuse the rationale of your argument. Besides, telling someone they are wrong really has little to do with the facts of your debate. They can figure out for themselves if they are in error and will manage to save face by doing so. Showing humility and compassion in a debate will not only make you look better when you win, it will also demonstrate you are a worthy opponent even if you lose.
Never Play Dirty
Avoid name calling at all costs. That’s just another way of telling them they are wrong. Attack their argument without resorting to making it personal. Waging an attack on them personally, name calling, shouting and so forth, makes it obvious that your argument is weak. Never let your opponent bait you into a personal attack. It’s a sure way to lose control and lose a debate. And when they do it to you, recognize it as a sign that you are closer to winning.
Stick to the Essential Points of the Argument
Both parties should agree on grounding essential points relative to their point of view. If you don’t, there can be no debate. For instance, what would be the point of arguing the question of abortion, when your opponent doesn’t believe in God and therefore that abortion could be perceived by some as a sin? Decide the matter of the existence of God first. If you can find agreement there, then you can debate points relative to God. If you can’t agree on the existence of God, it would be irrelevant that those of faith in God consider abortion a sin.
Try seeing a debate as less of a battle and more of a journey you take together with someone else. Establish and agree on the essential basic points as milestones along the road, and only move forward where logic prevails and there is agreement on each milestone passed along your way.
Always Stay on Topic
It’s common to see someone try to divert the topic at hand to another, when they sense they are losing. They hope you won’t notice they’re running on empty concerning a particular point of logic and will endeavor to get you entangled in a whole new debate. Don’t fall for this. Persuade them to return to the topic at hand and that you can debate their new topic, once you have settled the current one. Watch for this tactic carefully, as it is commonly used by opponents who are weak in theory, or their facts. Don’t be tempted to fall for it. Get back on topic and keep them there if you want to win.
Ask more Questions/Make fewer Statements
When your opponent states a “fact”, use questions designed to expose its flaws. Asking “tell me more” type questions, or asking for specific examples that illustrate their premise, is more powerful than trying to merely reenforce an opposing point of view. Questions that require lucid examples are classic ways to lay bare the truth, or misunderstanding of the facts. And, if you are calm, compassionate, non-accusatory and if they are honest, chances are they will concede the point.
Not always. Some people see your calm and calculating demeanor as insulting their intelligence – an excellent point by the way, if by intelligence they only mean they’re the only one capable of being right. In any case, they will be the loser and if they are a friend, family member or spouse, it will be easier to smooth things over later if they have not been personally criticized, or insulted. Usually they will later realize they simply overreacted.
Listen More/Talk Less
Make your position a strong argument, then let your opponent do all the talking; especially if they don’t have all their facts straight. A weak debater, with a poor grasp of the facts, will always end up defeating themselves. They may try to avoid conceding defeat, but ultimately they will break off the argument, or change the subject to avoid further debate in an area they realize you have a better grasp for; or they’ll simply leave. Many arguments have been won this way, without having to argue at all.
Get your Facts Straight
Don’t make statements of “fact” unless you know them to be true. Casting statements of facts around, which are nothing more than heresy, is poor form and makes you extremely vulnerable to defeat. Be prepared to back up your facts with good references. People who make up facts during arguments, just to support a belief, or to make a point that favors their bias, are difficult to debate. Remember how annoying it is to try to debate someone who won’t stick to the facts, so make sure you’re prepared to debate - or don’t do it at all. Better to not debate a topic or position you aren’t prepared for. Develop a reputation for being a competent debater and you will probably get your way more often, with few arguments in the future.
Know When You’re Beat
If your opponent is honest and you are sufficiently armed with the facts and you stick to 1-9 above, you will usually win a debate with someone less prepared. Sometimes you will be out maneuvered. Sometimes, you’re just wrong. If this happens, remember to always be graceful in defeat. Few things are more aggravating than a person who simply argues mindlessly and has to be right no matter how effectively you strip them bare of their argument. They just can’t give in.
Don’t be that person and if you find yourself in a debate with such a person, you should politely refuse to continue the discussion. Change the subject, or just move on. You’ll be better for it and so will they.