The Lost Art of Winning an Argument
This is going to be a short post, but an important one. I have noticed a disturbing trend, especially in how it relates to how humans interact online and in person these days, where arguments are formed on the basis of pejorative name calling and ill advised blanket statements that come from group think and not a place of informed study. Perhaps because I had four years of competitive debate under my belt at a young age I learned the art of winning an argument early on, but it appears that many have not. Let me be clear, this is not a political post and I am not going to try and tell you how to vote, think politically, or who to support. Your political beliefs are your business, and I absolutely respect that. What I am trying to do is make sure that everyone adequately communicates in a way that will actually engage meaningful conversations that can lead to mutually agreed upon change. For some of you this will be a refresher course. For others, this may be a challenge as it will require you to stop thinking of entire groups of people as a definitive standard, and it will also require you to stop crudely using labels and/or sarcasm as your primary means of badgering your opposition. I know, I’m asking a lot, but you’ve got to trust me on this one as it will start yielding positive results for you nearly immediately.
First: Speak with confidence. When I say confidence, I don’t mean arrogance. When you are speaking with confidence in an argument, it should be born from a deep understanding of and with full respect for the topic which you are speaking on. You should not be one sided in your understanding of an issue. There are hardly anything that we all agree upon other than the fact that bacon is amazing, and as such it is of the utmost importance to understand why your opposition believes that your point of view is wrong. You have to study, read, comprehend, and ultimately be able to speak from such a point confidence that you able to peacefully discuss the topic with both respect to your opposition and valid reasons why they should reconsider their stance.
Second: Engage in civil conversation. Talk to your opponent in a peaceful and civilized manner. Don’t yell. Don’t scream. Don’t lose your cool. And if you are arguing with me, you better not ever roll your eyes at something I said. Remember, the goal is to convince the opposition that they need to change their mind, not to verbally pummel them with insults and labels until they give up listening to you. Being civil should not even have to be stated, and yet it is a skill set that seems to be in short supply these days. What’s crazy about being civil is it is so easy. Just treat everyone how you would like to be treated. Give respect to those you speak with. Hear them out completely. Use their argument points as an opportunity to offer up counterpoints. Win the argument by having a discussion, not by trying to shame your opponent into submission. The entire point of winning an argument should be because your opponent has incorrect data or has a stance on an issue that is demonstrably wrong. Remember, there is always more than one solution for any complex issue that we face, and believe me when I say that the problems the world faces today are exceptionally complex. Compromise may be the only immediate solution, and that is OK so long as all parties involved are actively pursuing a permanent solution that is working towards a better common goal. The only honorable way to win an argument is by peacefully changing your opponent’s mind with accurate data and proper forward thought that they agree to by the sheer virtue of its enlightenment to their way of thinking in comparison to how they perceived the argument beforehand.
Third: Drop the sarcasm if you want to be taken seriously. If you want to convince a person, or an entire group of people to do exactly the opposite of what you want done, belittle them. If you want evidence of this, allow me to present exhibit A: President Trump. Seriously, the rampant name calling and hate mongering on both sides of the political spectrum is disheartening. Is Trump a train wreck of a human being? Of course he is, but calling him names (and by extension – his supporters) does not effect any positive change whatsoever. Working with your local and state representatives is a far better solution. Voting and getting out the vote for 2018 mid-terms and the 2020 Presidential election is also a vastly better, and frankly more dignified solution. Every time I see terms thrown around in conversation, such as: “cis white male”, “cuck”, “special snowflake”, “crybully”, and the many, many other pejorative terms being bandied about by seemingly respected news anchors, celebrities, and normal folks as the basis of their argument, I tune that mess out immediately – plain and simple. there’s an old adage that is still true to this day that relates to this, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Try forming a solid argument that gets to the point without rudely turning off the audience that needs to hear you just so you can get a few likes and retweets from your edgy followers who are “down with the cause.” I get that you are mad, but understand that mad is an emotional response, not the basis for a valid argument. Construct a solid foundation for your premise that does not require a snappy slam against someone in order to be valid. Bottom line, your arrogance and snark is obnoxious and will never convince someone to see your side of the argument. Be better than your baser instincts may lead you to believe that you need to be and it will pay off big time.
Fourth: Stick to what you know to be true. I loathe hyperbole as a rationale for establishing an argument. I’m also not fond of immature antics such as: the Straw Man, Correlation vs. Causation, Anecdotal Fallacy, and Omniscience. To me, if you can’t support your arguments with verifiable facts (not of the biased variety – that goes for both liberals and conservatives and frankly everyone), then you probably shouldn’t be fighting for the cause in the first place. Get educated. Learn the issue from as many sides of the equation as you can, then commit to what you believe is the correct path to pursue based on the evidence that you have been able to adequately vet from numerous sources. It’s amazing how many times I have gotten into a political discussion with someone who held a different view from me, only to find out that they only held that view because they heard a soundbite about it on CNN or Fox News. A soundbite. They based an entire opinion on a complex issue because of a 5 second audio clip. That is insane! Don’t be that person. Be informed. Be smart. Win arguments by dropping intelligently thought out undeniable truth bombs on your enemies.
Finally: Be emotionally prepared to lose, because it’s gonna happen. No matter how smooth a word-meister you may be or how well informed you are, you are going to lose an argument. Some you will lose because you were not fully prepared (even though you thought you were). Some you will lose because your opponent is so unwaveringly hard headed and no amount of conversation was ever going to sway them (advice: don’t re-engage with these folks, let those type of people go). Some you will lose because your opponent is actually more factually right (GASP!) than you despite your preparation because they found an angle to the scenario that you hadn’t taken into consideration, hey it happens! What’s important here is that you go into an argument with a confident mindset that is aiming to win, but understands that not all battles can be won every single time. Toughen up chief! Use each loss as a teachable moment. Dissect how and why you lost, and then add it to your arsenal for the next time you engage someone in a spirited discussion.
There you have it, a quick and handy guide on how to effectively engage and win an argument. Be confident, well informed, civil not sarcastic, and stick to what you know to be true, and you will start changing people’s mind the right way. Also, be ready to use a loss as a learning experience. If you can train yourself to not automatically spew labels, hateful remarks, and unnecessary sarcasm at people who having opposing views (of which there are many: political, entertainment, education, ethics, personal preference, etc.), and instead treat them with respect as you engage them in a civil spirited discussion, I promise you will come out ahead more often than not. Share this post with anybody that you think could use this information, or with a friend that is just obnoxious enough that you’ll hope some of this, ANY OF THIS, might sink in and help them to become a better human being. Have a nice day, and have many happy civil conversations about the important issues of the day, of which there are many.
Also, if it helps… here is a word of advice from Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston Esquire: