In fighting, there are no rules.
At any moment, things can go left and someone loses their life when they didn’t have to.
Verbal fights are rarely that dramatic, but they do come with the cost of strained or broken relationships.
Arguments, in the colloquial sense, are verbal fights we engage in once tempers flare and communication has broken down. No one is listening and everyone is wrong.
Some people face this conflict head-on, taking the bull by the horns while others avoid conflict at all costs.
While arguing is unavoidable, they don’t have to leave anyone licking their wounds. And shouldn’t, if you do it right. You will naturally have fundamental differences with others based on how you were raised and how you cope with challenges.
Arguing (the right way) is simply a means to work through your natural differences and coexist—especially important in relationships.
In truth, my advice for how to win an argument is to stop arguing in the first place.
But I recognize in a world where voicing an unpopular opinion is a tactic to stand out from the crowd…
…avoidance isn’t always possible or advisable.
So below, I’ll share my best (and unpopular) tips to winning any argument.
Keep your head when others are losing theirs
There is an entire field of study dedicated to the effects of emotions on conflict resolution—specifically political debates.1 Not surprisingly, negative emotions like anger, humiliation, and hatred almost always shut down negotiations. For debates with family members, once you point out the fallacies in another’s logic, conversations devolve into shouting matches.
In most scenarios, the moment you lose your temper is the moment you lose your credibility. The other person will no longer be willing to believe you are making a sound argument based on anything other than your emotions. And since emotions are variable, opinions based on them are as well.
When you become emotional, your reasoning ability takes a nosedive and you’re more likely to make personal attacks. You may end up winning the argument by shouting down your opponent, but your relationship is worse off for it.
Keep your emotions in check. If you can’t do that, walk away.
Don’t make good arguments for bad ideas
It doesn’t matter how good your argument is if it’s for a bad idea.
For instance, there’s no amount of convincing that’s going to make me start drinking and hanging out in bars again.
…Yes my friends might be there
…Yes, the music may be good
…No, I don’t have to drink just because I’m in a bar
I’ve detailed my struggles overcoming alcohol addiction in the past and now that part of my life is over. No argument, even with sound logic, is going to win me over.
Similarly, you may argue to convince your friends and significant others into doing something that’s best for no one but you. In a way, you win because you got your way, but did you truly win if you hurt everyone else in the process?
Tupac Shukar summed it up with this iconic line2:
“‘I made a G today,’ but you made it in a sleazy way”
Argue to be right and you’re already wrong
I’ve gone into detail about the pitfalls of arguing to be right in my arguing in relationships series. Read my article on how to stop arguing in relationships for more on that topic.
In short, sure you can ‘win’ if winning is just shutting the other person up or making them feel humiliated. However, if the purpose is to find common ground and you filibustered your significant other into submission, what did you gain?
It’s easy to dismiss others as less intelligent when they’re on the other side of the argument. But smart people are not immune to making arguments based on nothing more than assumptions. In fact, educated people can fall victim to a false sense of expertise due to their education, making them closed-minded and unwilling to hear what the other party is saying.
People become so staunchly opinionated because their ideologies become tangled up in their overall beliefs about the world. This means, attacking one’s belief is akin to dismantling their entire worldview. It also means they’ll be less likely to let go of their side of the story.
So in this case, you can never actually be right. Even with proven facts, they’ll never be willing to accept that everything they know about the world is wrong. And it’s just not possible to tackle that in one argument or conversation. The best you can do is offer an alternative perspective that helps to frame the new idea in a way that fits their current view.
Take an ‘L’ when it comes to social media
Arguing on social media is a fool’s errand at best.
There are a few things necessary for conflict resolution:
Outside of creativity, these are simply not present in social media arguments. The problem with social media is most people have trouble framing their ideas independent of how they feel in the first place. Add to that, the argument gets lost because you are communicating for an audience rather than for clarity and accuracy.
This makes it more difficult to craft a balanced argument or be open to reconsidering if fallacies are found in your thinking process. This is also the reason political debates are rarely enlightening. Both opponents are seeking only to score points for their team.
My advice: if they want to win, let them win. And learn to recognize when someone is baiting you into an argument on social media. I go into more depth on the topic in my article: How to stop arguing in real life and online.
And this idea leads to my next tip…
Question yourself - why are you arguing?
Consider your reasoning for entering the argument to begin with. Are you seeking clarity? Are you trying to persuade someone to your side? Or are you out for blood and trying to be right? Is the topic you’re arguing even important to your life?
Evaluate your own argument for breakdowns in logic. Good arguments can stand up to reason. Remember the point is not to dismantle anyone that opposes you if what you truly seek is understanding.
While thinking up counter-arguments can help you see the fallacies in your own thinking, they aren’t enough. Eventually, your thinking will need to be tested by an outside person’s perspective.
If you find that you become overly defensive, you may simply not know enough about the topic to formulate more than an emotion-based viewpoint. Additionally, you may need to learn to stop caring what other people think of you if you shy away from sharing your true opinion.
Listen with humility
Listening more than you talk can help you see things from the other person’s point of view
You won’t always feel stoic, that takes time. But you can gain valuable insight into their thinking process. This is vital for deepening all kinds of relationships.
Don’t make assumptions. Ask someone how they came to their viewpoint or argument.
To show you are listening, restate their argument back to them. This validates their opinion, helping them feel understood. You also minimize the chances your argument is based on a misunderstanding.
Listening is also necessary to gain trust and influence people. Remember, you can’t sell someone something they don’t need or want.
Ask better questions
Most people hear a few bits of information then piece them together with assumptions. The formal term for this is the illusion of understanding.3
Luckily, the illusion falls apart once you start asking someone how their point of view solves a perceived problem. The result is they recognize their own assumptions and start to back down from the argument.
Once you recognize a gap in thinking, try to reframe their thoughts or perspective with examples.
For example, if the goal is to stop having heated arguments or to curb a certain behavior, ask how that behavior solves the problem of better communication?
Control what you can control
Finally, when you’re busy following your own path, you run out of energy to focus on things that won’t matter in the long run.
Even if your friend has a habit that will likely ruin their lives, you’ll end up stressing yourself out and straining your relationship before you ever convince them to give up the habit.
I’m not saying that these things aren’t worth arguing for. But if you’ve tried to convince your parents to eat better, you know first hand that people will fight for their bad habits.
Say your piece. Mind your business. Keep it moving.
Ultimately, changing minds is up to the individual. Focus on what you can control. Other people’s thoughts are simply not one of them.
Arguing is mostly unnecessary and signs that your other modes of communication have broken down. My advice: stop arguing in the first place. But if you can’t do that, do this to win an argument:
- Control your emotions
- Don’t argue for things that hurt others in the long run
- Social media arguments are stupid
- Question your own argument
- Listen more than you talk
- Ask better questions
- Control what you can control
Get Your Life Together With The Essays of Power
I don’t know you, but I know you.
I know that you’re tired of feeling weak, being a victim, and having no control over the direction of your life.
I know you because I was once you.
I used to be stuck on the hedonistic treadmill of mediocrity. Always drunk, always broke, and always looking for the next piece of cheap entertainment and distraction.
Then one day, I changed my entire life around.
I took responsibility for my personal development and started living the best life I possibly could. I learned how to:
- Live with purpose
- Think with clarity
- Face the my demons
- Fix my finances
Unlike a lot of other motivational gurus, I’ve been to the bottom and I clawed my way back out. It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t sure if I’d just become another statistic along the way, but I think I have made tremendous progress.
I learned the hard way, but I can break it down so you can learn it the easy way…Get The Mind And Fist Essays Of Power
Bruce Hornsby, Deon Evans, Tupac Amaru Shakur, Songfacts: Changes, ©2022 Songfacts®, LLC. Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group. Lyrics licensed and provided by LyricFind, https://www.songfacts.com/lyrics/2pac/changes [accessed Jan. 3, 2022] ↩
Fernbach, Philip M., Todd Rogers, Craig R. Fox, and Steven A. Sloman. “Political Extremism Is Supported by an Illusion of Understanding.” Psychological Science 24, no. 6 (June 2013): 939–46. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612464058. [accessed Jan. 3, 2022] ↩