There are individuals who would do anything to avoid conflict, in order to maintain good relations with those around them. It’s not the optimal answer at how to win an argument. Conflict avoidance is the surest way to overlook problems.
Conflict is part of everyday’s life and trying to imagine an existence completely free of conflict is a fruitless endeavor. Most people don’t like to argue, and experiencing feelings of anxiety, comfort and elevated stress is the main reason why no one is fond of getting into a dispute, especially with someone they care about and they appreciate.
Settling differences in a calm and logical manner should be the right path, and not avoiding conflict. On the other hand, there are others who seem ready to jump into a debate at a moment’s notice, and they can be seen as difficult by those they come in contact with. These are, however, just extremes, and most people are somewhere in between.
So, how to win an argument? There are two important things that make winning an argument possible: facts and the ability to communicate them in a logical manner. This article is intended as a guide for helping you gain those necessary skills for presenting your point of view in a way that will make others see it, no matter how heated your debate.
“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.”
– Joseph Joubert
Many factors come into play when an argument is in progress. The fact that you care about the person you are arguing with, the feeling that you really have to be right, and the self image you want to create in front of others, can make the debate more difficult than it should be. One very intense feeling you may experience when you have a debate with someone is anger, as you feel like you are made a fool of, but anger will sabotage all your chances of making your voice heard.
Instead of letting anger grip you, see the following essentials that will help you win an argument in the correct manner.
1. First things first, how to win an argument with the facts
Before jumping head in and starting to argue a point of view, do a quick reality check. Making mistakes is only human, and checking your facts prior to getting in a verbal dispute with someone will save you a lot of grief and annoyance. Let’s say, for instance, that you are firmly convinced that India has a more numerous population than China (a common misconception since the two countries have the highest number of people living within their borders on the entire planet). So, before checking your facts – which would immediately prove that it is actually China that has the most numerous population – you get into an argument you would most likely lose.
There is no point in beating yourself over such common mistakes. But you can save yourself the trouble by simply checking the facts. This way, there will be no argument, and there will be no one who would be losing it. Two researchers from the Yale University, Leonid Rozenblit and Frank Keil, examined how such mistakes occur. They established that people often mistake their familiarity with a subject – in this case, the most crowded countries in the world – with their actual knowledge of it.
So, check the facts, or, if you are in the position that you cannot do that, simply ask your opponent about more details on the matter. The air could get cleared quickly and no one will have to argue. Next time you feel tempted to get into a debate about what country has the most numerous population, just see the facts first, and you will not have to lose face in front of your friend.
2. Allow yourself to listen to the other’s point of view
One thing that often happens when people argue is that no one is willing to hear the other’s point of view. Caught up in your own argument and the desire to make the other see it, you actually lose track of the entire conversation. Each person is basically just carrying on their own argument, and no real communication takes place.
There are certain benefits to gain from actually listening to what the other has to say. Quite often, people are influenced in what they are saying about their feelings, and these could cloud their judgment up to the point that they cannot see anything else. By showing empathy, you are basically starting to see what is bothering them, and, as soon as that happens, you can offer feedback that is easier to accept and understand by the other party.
Peter Ditto, a psychology professor at UC-Irvine explained it best: “When people have their self-worth validated in some way, they tend to be more receptive to information that challenges their beliefs.”
A debate is a two way street. You may learn about things you weren’t aware of at first, and you may change your opinion based on the information received. And, by showing empathy, you will open up the communication channels initially closed by the too heated argument.
3. Show willingness to give an opportunity to justify their arguing position
You may not be ready to actually listen to every argument the other party has up their sleeve. But it certainly helps to show that you are, at least, willing to give them the opportunity to present their opinion on the matter. It may feel difficult, especially in the beginning, to accept their arguments, but you can ask questions that will allow the communication to take place. This is a very good tool to use in order to appease your opponent who, in turn, will feel more willing to express their point of view in a more intelligible manner.
An important gain resulted from this approach is that by noting the other’s value, you make them more willing to change their point of view, and to listen to what you have to say.
4. Don’t antagonize your opponent by letting your emotions run amok
Arguments are often faced with a wide range of emotions, and anyone feels tempted to give in to anger and other negative emotions when their position is challenged. You could be the one winning the argument by keeping your emotions in check and by showing that you can control them. Some people fear that a calm attitude might make them look weak in front of their opponents, but, actually, the one with a leveled head is the one in control of the entire situation, and not the other way around.
5. Don’t make things personal, no matter how much you care about the argument
A dispute should not be personal. After all, each party is expressing a point of view, and not something that is defining for their personality or self worth. Many feel tempted to express their anger when they are involved in an argument, by launching vicious personal attacks on the other person. That is the surest way to lose an argument, since you will just prove to the other that you are so unsure of your point of view that you need to change the subject by attacking them.
In case this is something that is done to you, you should immediately draw attention that the situation crossed the line. Remind the other that you two are arguing over a certain aspect or situation, and that putting the entire relationship that exists between you two under fire can only cause long lasting damage.
Last words: don’t mistake arguing with fighting
Arguing is not the same thing as fighting. When people fight, they basically let their emotions get the best of them, and it all turns into a full fledge war that must have winners and losers. It is possible to avoid terrible fights by getting into a calm and logical argument.
The next video shows how philosopher Daniel H. Cohen explains the downsides of using this common form of carrying a dispute. Emphasis is placed on the importance of becoming able to engage in active disagreement for a beneficial outcome for both parties.
Arguments offer more benefits than downsides when done right. Your main goal should be to get the other person to see your point of view, even if they may not end up agreeing on it. A real argument does not necessarily end up with winners and losers. Both parties can agree to disagree and this is an important step towards constructive communication that will enrich the relationship, rather than sabotage it.
• Address the issue, not the person, and listen to what the other has to say
• Organize your thoughts and communicate them in a calm, logical manner
• Do not try to overwhelm the other, with the sole purpose of being heard
• Show that you are engaged in the conversation, through speech and non-verbal communication
• Do not give the other the impression that you want to trample them to the ground; show that you want to convince them instead
• Use arguments as means to strengthen the relationship, instead of sabotaging it
• Try finding a common ground on which you can debate in a constructive manner with the other party
If you liked this article, share it with your friends and see what they have to say! Feel free to sound off in the comments below about anything you didn’t like or that resonated particularly with you. Share your stories and tips about arguments in your life.
- Halperin, E. (2014). Emotion, emotion regulation, and conflict resolution.
Emotion Review, 6(1), 68-76. doi:10.1177/1754073913491844