When trying to win an argument, most people default to the obvious: talking. There are two typical strategies for that.
First, there are the folks who are aggressive with their words. They’ll charge right into their opponent. They’ll throw arguments like bombs. They’ll quote facts, negotiate assumptions and corner you until you’re left speechless, with no other choice but to agree with them.
Other people have a different strategy. They won’t use merit to convince you. Rather, they’ll rely on emotional manipulation. They’ll bring up only remotely relevant examples and position themselves as victims. Then, they’ll guilt-trip you into compliance by making you feel bad if you didn’t.
These two strategies seem like effective ways to win an argument. However, they rarely lead to constructive discussions. That’s because people who use them aren’t interested in that. More than anything, they just want to prove they’re right.
The question of how to win an argument is really a question of validating themselves. But that’s no way to initiate a meaningful discussion or solve a conflict.
Luckily, there’s another strategy you can use if you want to learn how to win an argument. Counterintuitively, it demands you to speak less — not more.
What It Really Means To Win an Argument
Most people assume that winning an argument is about what they say. You may believe that if you just find the right words, you can persuade any person to agree with you.
That’s what we usually understand by “winning an argument.” But this is misguided.
Often, the more you argue, the further away you move from convincing someone. That’s just human psychology 101. Nobody wants to be forced to believe something they don’t.
As Seth Godin wrote, “You can’t make people change. But you can create an environment where they choose to.”
This is an important hint to see arguments in a new light. When trying to “win,” you shouldn’t be too concerned with the outcomes of the conversation.
Rather, what if you focused on how you want to feel as a result?
Just think about it. When trying to win an argument, you’re usually after a particular feeling. Maybe it’s the satisfaction that comes from solving a conflict. Or, the pride that you’re changing the world, one person at a time. Or maybe, a feeling of reassurance that you’re a smart and worthy human being.
But here’s one thing to understand: those feelings don’t have to be dependent on persuading someone to change their mind. Feeling like you won an argument can look in many different ways, for example:
- Understanding the other person’s perspective.
- Ending the conversation by “agreeing to disagree.”
- Adjusting your point of view after hearing good arguments.
- Learning something about the subject matter that you weren’t aware of before.
Often, those outcomes are way more useful for you and the other person. But what if you’re still tempted to persuade them because you’re so convinced that you’re right?
Well, here’s the blunt truth. No matter how hard you try, you can’t force the other person to change their mind.
Why Forcing Your Opinion Won’t Help You Win
If the only way you see to win an argument is by changing someone’s mind, then you’re missing the whole point.
By making them agree with you, you may get the fleeting satisfaction that comes with “defeating the opponent.” But you don’t accomplish anything authentic. Forcing someone to change their mind is usually counterproductive.
I know this because I’ve been on the “losing” end of arguments many times. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys discussions. I easily get emotional and lose my thread. As a result, I often feel forced to agree with my interlocutor who’s a stronger player in the verbal game.
When that happens, I only agree with what they say on the surface. I can’t find arguments to counteract theirs. On the outside, it seems like they won, and I lost the battle. But deep down, I actually become more defensive and certain of my views.
In other words: The other person thinks they “won the argument” by persuading me. In reality, I just told them whatever they wanted to hear to get out of the uncomfortable situation.
Because I’ve been in that position too many times, I know that forcing someone to agree with you doesn’t work. Seth Godin was right when he said that we can’t make people change.
We can, however, create conditions for a more constructive argument. The kind of argument that naturally changes everyone involved.
The way to do that is usually by speaking less.
How To Win an Argument by Speaking Less and Listening More
A fruitful argument starts with creating conditions for a constructive exchange. If people just keep throwing “their truths” at each other, what’s the point? You just become more rigid in your opinions.
You may scream out your lungs trying to communicate — but the other person isn’t listening anyway. No one wins in that scenario.
I’m sure you’ve seen this many times. It’s easy to observe especially when you stand aside, watching other people argue. In political debates, couples’ fights or conflicts at work, we often make one crucial mistake. This prevents us from resolving conflict — or ever feeling like we won an argument.
What is that mistake? It’s attaching our self-worth to whether or not we’re “right” about the subject matter.
When being right becomes the way to validate yourself, there’s no space for constructive arguments. You start fighting like your life depends on it. For the ego, proving yourself right and the other person wrong feels like a matter of life and death.
The way out of this mindset is realizing that you aren’t your opinions, and neither is the other person. Once you stop attaching your identity to the outcome of the argument, everything becomes easier. Whether you win or lose doesn’t say anything about your value as a person.
When you grasp that, a few things happen.
First, you stop confusing “winning an argument” for defeating the person you’re talking to.
Then, you start practising intellectual humility — the ability to question yourself and evaluate your own thinking.
Naturally, this also leads to listening more and speaking less. As your reasons for entering arguments change, so does your “winning strategy.”
To Win Means To Learn
When you discover the power of speaking less and listening more, your whole attitude shifts.
The question of “how to win an argument?” changes into “what can I learn from it?”
From this perspective, winning an argument means growing from it as much as possible — rather than defeating anyone.
This way, everyone involved can be a winner. To make that possible, people must not just speak but also listen.
While listening to someone you disagree with may not be easy, remembering these three tips may help:
- You can’t force anyone to change their mind no matter how hard you try.
- Winning an argument is about the feeling you want to create, not the outcome.
- If you want to have a constructive debate, stop attaching your self-worth to “being right.”
If you remember these, speaking less and listening more will become second nature. You won’t have to force yourself to do it.
You’ll be a winner in every argument without needing to fight for it.
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