Sharpen up Your ‘Argument Etiquette’ by Letting Someone Else Win for a Change

Sometimes we need to look at things from a different angle.

Photo: Josh Howard/Unsplash

Have you ever had a standoff with someone over something trivial?

You argue your case (very well I’m sure), but you can’t seem to get through to them. It feels like you’re talking in a different language. You explain it in the simplest way you know. Often several times. Sometimes a little slower, sometimes a little louder. Still. Nothing. You wonder if they’re even listening to what you’re saying.

Their inability to understand something so logical is frustrating but fear not; we’re going to look at taking a different approach. It’s not always easy, in some cases it requires the patience of a saint, but you may learn something about the other person. You may even have more respect for them once all is said and done.

Confirmation Bias

Let’s get down to business.

It’s crucial to start by saying that humans aren’t logical. I’m not, and I hate to break it to you, but you’re not either. Not always, anyway.

You see, we love confirmation bias. We have a thought and naturally become attracted to anything that supports this. When we read an article, we interpret it in such a way that it piles on the evidence to endorse our existing beliefs.

Everything’s rosy if you’re buying into the same ideas as others, but what happens when two people are doing this, with conflicting opinions? Most likely an intensely ‘spirited’ debate involving facts, figures and everything in between.

One thing that is unlikely to happen is to win the other person around to your way of thinking, though.

But I’m Right!

Yes, you are. “And [INSERT NAME] still won’t agree with me?” you ask. Nope. There are two reasons for this.

Firstly, when you argue your case, you also strengthen the opposition defence.

People don’t generally like to admit when they’re wrong so, through confirmation bias, they do fact-finding themselves to support their statements.

The other reason is that you’re right in your argument and they’re correct in the one they’re putting forward. The point is, you’re most likely arguing two separate points concerning one common objective.

The best outcome of any potential conflict is to avoid it.

That’s not to say you should run away from issues or never stand up for what you believe in but discuss the problems rationally.

Have an open mind to understand another point of view.

To engage in debate means that both parties feel passionate about something. Your job is to find out exactly what it is calmly and productively. Ask why it’s important to them. What would be the knock-on effects if they don’t get their way?

The answers may surprise you, and you could even warm yourself to their thoughts. If everyone involved can do this. You’ll have an open and honest approach which works best for all.

‘Argument’ Etiquette

I have to confess that I’m not a massive fan of the word ‘argument’. It seems to suggest that only person can win. It loses the essence of a productive and healthy debate. We all disagree at times, but the aim should always be win/win.

I want to be clear that when I mention the word ‘argument’ that I’m using it in the sense that we’re looking for a positive outcome for all.

I think it’s essential at this stage to look at a couple of rules when engaging in a passionate debate.

  • Show a sympathetic desire to understand a different point of view.
  • Don’t turn a debate into a slanging match — It’s not about the he-said-she-said, it’s about finding a solution/agreement that works well for everyone.
  • Don’t raise your voice to overpower someone — it shows a lack of control. Try and stay calm, listen and be open to a proper discussion.
  • Try not to argue over text or e-mail — At best, speak to the other side in person. Hand gestures, facial expressions and intonation of particular words can completely change the context of a statement. When we only see words on a screen, we interpret them based on the way we’re feeling and our insecurities.
  • If the conversation isn’t going anyway, end it. Or at the very least, take a break. Sometimes, we need time to process the information, to step back, regather our thoughts or just time to cool down before we say anything we’ll regret. If we’ve tried to understand but you’re still going in circles, agree to disagree and walk away. You can both save face that way.

A Few Final Thoughts to End With

Sometimes we’re adamant we’re right. We can’t even begin to see, let alone understand, another point of view. We try to reason with reliable facts and sound arguments to back our claims, but no matter how obvious it is to us, sometimes it just doesn’t cut the mustard.

We get so caught up trying to prove that we’re correct that we don’t take the time to sympathize with the opposing view. We get ourselves in a tizz because we can’t get through to the other person. It’s like they’re not even listening to what we’re saying — they’d surely see that we were right, they were wrong if they did — if only it were that simple!

Typically it’s not a matter of who is right or wrong. Usually, it’s poor communication from both. There’s probably a common goal at the centre of the argument; you just haven’t understood the other concerns of the other person entirely.

Nobody tries to do or say the wrong thing; it’s often a difference of what’s most important to the individual.

If we can find a keenness and desire to learn what the opposite sides underlying issues are, then we’ll resolve much of the conflict. It’s not easy, but it’s do-able.

Thanks for being here. I’d love to keep in touch so join my mailing list now for semi-regular e-mails about what’s been occupying my mind over recent weeks.

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A Virgo with a life long love of learning and personal development. Here to write about thoughts, ideas and anything else that has been keeping me up at night!

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