How to win an argument

by Emma Forshee

Have you ever found yourself in an argument you just can’t seem to win? Maybe you don’t have good comebacks, or maybe you aren’t knowledgeable on the subject. You might spend days replaying that argument in your head, coming up with better things to say. Regardless, there is a foolproof way to win every argument you will ever come across — and become a stronger leader in the process.

First, there is an important distinction to be made between an argument and a fight. Jay Heinrichs, a writer and debate connoisseur, explains this difference well in his book Thank You For Arguing. Essentially, a fight is a series of disorganized, jagged sentences meant to elevate one side above the other. Winning a fight does nothing but prove, for a short time, that you are better than your opponent; it does not achieve any ultimate or premeditated goal. However, an argument is a civilized conversation in which two opposing sides try to convince each other of their own merit and validity with the end goal of taking action. Winning an argument means getting what you want, like permission to stay out late on a school night. 

So, how do you win an argument? The first and easiest tactic is that of concession. “What? Doesn’t conceding mean losing the argument??” No – not if you end up with what you want. Here’s an example: 

Say you are trying to get your parents to let you take a trip with some friends over the weekend. 

Scenario 1: 

Dad: “This trip seems like it will cost a lot of money. How do I know you’ll be safe when you’re away? I don’t know if I want you to go, especially for a whole weekend.”

You: “But Dad, this is really important to me! Don’t you care about my social life? And besides, I’ve worked so hard for this!” 

Your first statement is whiney and immature. The concerns that your parents have are not being taken into consideration. Instead, try this:  

Scenario 2: 

Dad: “This trip seems like it will cost a lot of money. How do I know you’ll be safe when you’re away? I don’t know if I want you to go, especially for a whole weekend.”

You: “Dad, I know taking a cross country trip this weekend could be expensive and potentially unsafe, but I have saved up enough money to afford it. I’ll also be with my friends and their parents, so we’ll be sure to stay safe. Besides, I’ve worked really hard to keep up with school lately and I think I deserve a vacation.”

This strategy is much more effective than the line of reasoning that was used in the first scenario. In this statement, you have conceded and acknowledged your parent’s point about the trip being unsafe and expensive and have offered a solution to both. While your parents still have the final say in whether or not you go on this trip, you have offered a convincing argument using only the concession tactic.

The next tactic is a little more sneaky and behind the scenes. In this three-step-process, you must change your opponent’s mood, then their mind, then fill them with the desire for action. 

First, change their mood. Often, the most memorable speakers start their speeches with a joke or a story. They get their audience in the right headspace to listen to what they have to say. This concept can be used on a much smaller scale, on an everyday basis. When trying to be persuasive, allow your opponent to feel comfortable around you. Tell a few jokes or tell a relatable story to let your opponent know that you and him have more similarities than differences. Once your opponent is comfortable around you, he is in the right headspace for verbal war (whether he knows it or not). 

Next, it’s time to change their mind. This step is a little more difficult, but it is achievable. Use different appeals based on your opponent’s personality or beliefs. If they are a very sympathetic person, appeal to their emotions. For example, if you are trying to raise money for an animal shelter, show the person you are trying to convince pictures of sad, homeless animals. Play some slow music and maybe even bring in a live animal for people to pet. In this way, a sympathetic person will feel sorry for the animals in need after seeing their pictures and will be delighted to pet a cute animal. As a result, they will probably donate to your cause. 

On the other hand, if your opponent is more cynical than sympathetic, appeal to their sense of logic and ethics. Have a distinct line of reasoning that is supported by statistics or facts from credible sources. For example, when trying to persuade your boss to give you a raise, a sympathetic approach probably won’t work. However, a presentation that includes some statistics on your increasing amount of sales or examples of your phenomenal work ethic might do the trick. 

Once your opponent is won over, they need to know why it matters. Give them the desire to act (this is where you get what you want). For example, say you have just given a speech in which you have warmed up your audience by telling a few jokes. You have successfully convinced them that every classroom in the school should have at least one houseplant in it by appealing to the audience’s emotions and logic. You must get your audience to take action by setting up a system to implement this new policy. Make it clear and give each person a specific task to complete. Make sure to include a timeframe and a deadline for when this project is to be completed. The final result? Every classroom will end up with a houseplant in it. In the long run, does it really matter if every classroom has a houseplant? No, not really. However, using your skills in argument, you have convinced an entire audience that it is necessary and that it does, in fact, matter. You have achieved your goal and gotten what you wanted. You won. 


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