In this new article you’ll learn how to argue effectively and productively.
Despite our efforts to avoid them, we all get into arguments now and then. An argument with a significant other, coworker, friend or even just a stranger online can be stressful and repressive.
It is therefore in your best interests to know how to handle these situations, to know the tips and tricks for defusing and negotiating your way through an argument.
So much of the pain, stress and confusion could be taken out of our lives if we simply learned to have better discussions.
The first and most critical step is to stop arguing, and start discussing. After that, remember to be as clear as possible, and to practice kindness and understanding.
Give others the benefit of the doubt, be willing to forgive and compromise.
You may not like having arguments, but you should still aim to get better at them. Much improvement in your discourse will only come with time and practice, yet by remembering these 31 things you can make real progress in your relationships and disagreements with others.
How To Argue Effectively And Productively:
1. Stop Arguing, Start Having Discussions
This perhaps seems counterintuitive but the best way to deal with an argument is simply not to argue. By don’t argue, I mean avoid a verbal war at all costs.
Don’t go in to a discussion with the idea that the other side of the argument must see that you are right no matter what.
Come to the table, so to speak, ready to have an honest, civil discussion with others. Try to get beyond the idea of “winning” or “losing” an argument.
Start seeing your conversational partner as a just that, a partner. You are partners on a search for truth together, not adversaries.
2. Be Prepared To Change Your Mind
Being willing to have an honest conversation means be willing to change your mind.
The problem with seeing discussions/arguments in only win/lose terms is that it implies that if you learn, you lose.
If your dialogue partner shows you that your reasoning or evidence is flawed, you have a chance to learn something.
Yet you won’t learn anything if you think that having your argument be defeated is losing, or something you should be ashamed about.
3. Define Your Terms
The philosopher Voltaire said “If you wish to converse with me, first define your terms.” This is sound advice.
Have you ever been in a situation where it seemed like you were disagreeing with someone, but they were really just using a word differently than you used it?
This happens all the time, so it is very important to define your terms.
Start out by saying “When I say This I mean Precise Definition.” It might seem like a pain to have to do this, but it will save you a lot of time in the long run by not arguing with someone over definitions.
At the outset of the conversation, avoid misunderstandings by defining your terms.
4. Really Listen
So often it happens that as people talk to us we aren’t really listening.
Instead we are thinking of what we’re going to say in response, or else thinking about something irrelevant like what we’re going to have for lunch.
Really try to be present in the conversation, listen to your partner and give them your full attention.
If you don’t listen to them you risk misunderstanding them, creating unnecessary confusion.
Furthermore, how can you convince someone of an alternative viewpoint if you don’t actually understand the view they hold?
Active listening will make you better at persuasion, reduce confusion, and it is just courteous to boot.
5. Re-express Or Rephrase Their Position
As soon as you’ve heard someone’s position on something, you’re probably already thinking of ways to dismantle their argument and prove yourself correct.
Stop. Don’t do that.
Instead, take a moment to really digest their argument and then repeat it back to them as you understand it.
The philosopher Daniel Dennett recommends that you try to rephrase it in a manner that is so clear and concise that they say “Wow, I wish I’d thought of putting it like that!”
Because this helps make sure both sides of the argument are on the same page. We’ve all had times where we’ve had to say “That’s not what I’m saying at all! What I mean is…”
Don’t do that to other people.
Instead, make sure you really understand the point they are making before pressing on.
This will save you time since you won’t get bogged down in misunderstandings, and will earn you points with your interlocutor (conversational partner) by showing them you were really listening to them.
6. Understand Them, Get Into Their Head
We often fail to convince others because we focus on what convinces us and then push that reasoning onto them.
We take the reasons we have for a belief (or the reasons we tell ourselves we have), and then assume that those reasons will persuade the other person.
Yet your dialogue partner isn’t you. They think differently and have different values.
If you want to convince them you will need to understand them.
Try to understand their beliefs, values and thought process. Ask yourself what would convince you if you were them.
You need to tailor your argument according to their worldview if you want to be persuasive.
7. Understand Yourself, Ask What Your Goal Is
Take a moment before you begin an argument to ask yourself what your goals are.
If you don’t have clear reasons for wanting something, how do you expect to communicate those reasons to anyone else?
Ask yourself what you want out of this conversation, think about the problem you have and what steps will need to be taken to solve it.
If your partner never helps by doing chores around the house, then your goal is to convince them that they should help.
When you recognize that the lack of help with chores causes you frustration, you can them communicate that frustration to your partner.
8. Pick Your Battles
Figure out which arguments really need to be had.
If you try to argue about every last little perceived slight or injustice, it will be seen as commonplace for you voice dissent.
Your words will then have less impact when you do raise an important issue, and beyond that nobody likes someone who is constantly negative. Constantly fighting will stress you out too, naturally.
9. Stay Calm During The Discussion
Do you like being yelled at? No, hardly anyone does.
If you feel the urge to start yelling and screaming, calm down and walk away from the argument for a bit. Take deep breaths if you feel yourself start to get agitated, continuing a discussion with anger will only make things worse.
10. Don’t Insult
This is one of those ones that seems like common sense, but many people still need to be reminded of it. Don’t resort to mockery or insults.
For one, insults don’t provide any actual reasons or evidence, so they aren’t going to be effective if your goal is to convince someone of your viewpoint.
In fact, quite the opposite will happen.
Insults tend to make people more defensive and they make you look immature, increasing the likelihood that your arguments will simply be dismissed.
11. Make It Personal
You shouldn’t get personal by insulting someone, but you can get personal through personal anecdotes.
Telling a personal story to your partner with evocative images and phrases can open them up to persuasion.
Crafting a narrative that appeals to their sense of empathy or compassion can be a very effective tactic. Take note though that a personal narrative shouldn’t be your only argument.
A personal story can paint a picture of the situation, but you will need to back it up with actual evidence and sound reasoning.
12. Speak For Yourself By Using “I”
It can be tempting to criticize the other person and put words in their mouth, but refrain from doing so.
Try to speak only for yourself by using “I”, such as “I’m feeling some resentment because…”. “I” statements are un-blaming, all you are doing is communicating how you feel.
This makes the other person feel less attacked which helps prevent the situation from escalating.
13. Deal With The Actual Argument
Arguments are often exacerbated by the fact that one side isn’t actually dealing with the other side’s position, but by a caricature of their position.
In terms of logical fallacies, this is known as a Strawman (1). It refers to twisting a person’s argument into a version that is easier to defeat, but was not what that person actually said.
Doing this is not only dishonest, but it guaranteed to provoke anger and a dismissive attitude from the other side of the argument.
Don’t build strawmen, deal with their actual argument.
14. Give The Benefit Of The Doubt
When exchanges get heated there is a tendency to assume the worst in people, perhaps that they are being willfully ignorant or deceitful.
Yet in general most simply people believe they are in the right and acting according to their own sense of ethics; they are not consciously trying to undermine you.
This isn’t to say that there occasionally people who bear you ill-will, but it is good practice to start off by assuming the best and giving the benefit of the doubt.
Allowing paranoia or insecurity to manifest itself by accusing people of purposeful malice will shut down the conversation by making your interlocutor hostile to your arguments.
We want people to give us the benefit of the doubt and assume the best, do your best to reciprocate.
15. Ask Questions
Asking questions can be extremely effective in advancing the dialogue.
The philosopher Socrates developed a method of questioning to investigate problems and reveal assumptions.
Using the Socratic questioning method offers at least two advantages.
For one, it reveals to you the thought process of your conversational partner and second it gets your partner to examine their own assumptions and beliefs.
For example: “How do think she felt?” “How can you know that’s true?” “Why do think that’s the case?”
Instead of telling people what you think or trying to tell them how to think, you can instead ask them to engage in self-reflection and let them work out if there are any problems with their point of view.
16. Acknowledge How They Feel
If you were angry or frustrated by something, wouldn’t you want the other person to acknowledge that?
A simple acknowledgement of your partner’s feelings can go a long way in getting them to open up or de-escalating an argument.
Note that acknowledging someone’s feelings is not the same as agreeing with those feelings.
If you feel those feelings are unjustified, you can explain that to the other person but understand that they are experiencing those feelings regardless of what you think about them.
17. Be Willing To Compromise
If you cannot convince the other side of your viewpoint, you may have to compromise.
If neither side is willing to give an inch in an argument, no solution will ever be reached. You cannot bring your life to a grinding halt and refuse to go on until you get your way.
It is important to be willing to compromise, and to elicit that same willingness from your partner.
Try to set reasonable terms for the compromise you can both agree on. The terms don’t have to be equal, but as a gesture of good faith they often are.
What is most important is that both of you can live with the terms, and that those terms are adhered to.
18. Do Your Research
If you want to convince someone you will need to have well reasoned positions backed by good evidence.
You will also need to anticipate their responses and have rebuttals ready for their arguments. This involves researching both sides of your argument, both pros and cons for your personal theory or point of view.
The more you know about the topic, the better off you are.
19. Recognize When You’ve Hit A Wall
You should be able to recognize when the conversation has reached a standstill and neither side is going to convince the other.
If you have both presented your best arguments and now seem to be covering the same ground in a loop, it is time to end the discussion.
Upon reaching this point, de-escalating if necessary and then politely closing the argument will allow both of you go to about your day and save both of you time.
20. Don’t Build Weapon Stockpiles
When you’re upset you may feel like you want to unload all of your grievances at one time, but this is counterproductive.
Whipping out problem after problem can seem aggressive, and bringing too many issues into the argument will only create confusion. It will also increase the probability of getting side-tracked with irrelevant topics.
Deal with one issue at a time to make progress, usually the most pressing and relevant issue.
21. Stay On Topic, Avoid Derailing
Similar to the above, try to stay on topic at all times.
You might be tempted to bring another topic up because it seems related to the topic at hand. Unless it is absolutely crucial, refrain from doing this.
Pinballing back and forth between topics is a great way to ensure no actual progress is made.
Another problem is that while you may see the relationship between the two issues, the other person is not guaranteed to see it and may assume you are trying to distract or derail the argument.
22. Use Good, Vivid Examples
Remember that part of creating a compelling argument is illustrating your points with vivid examples.
You will have an easier time convincing someone to take your view if you can paint a picture in their mind. If you’re trying to convince someone not to go to a restaurant, remind them about the time they food poisoning in detail.
Vague and undefined examples don’t help, make them vivid.
23. Use Metaphors, Shift The Analogy
When trying to explain a difficult concept to someone, use a metaphor to explain it in a way they can understand. Refer to concepts they are familiar with.
Say if you were talking to a mechanic, you might describe how computer parts interact through comparison to an engine.
Analogies are also important to note as they imply equivalence between two things, even though the two concepts may not be equivalent.
If you’re in an argument and someone presents and analogy, but you suspect the analogy is flawed, than try shifting the analogy to see if the principals of the argument still hold true.
24. Avoid Absolutes
The world is a complex place, very few things in it are black or white.
Most issues have shades of gray, so argue accordingly by avoiding absolutes. Using absolutist language frequently just sets you up for failure.
If the other side of the argument can easily come up with some examples that prove you wrong, you will look foolish and fail to convince the other party of your position.
25. Ask Them What It Would Take To Change Their Mind
Use this tactic only if you feel like you’re hitting a wall in the conversation, but it can be effective to ask the other person “What would it take for you to change your mind?”
Asking them what kind of evidence or what argument would be convincing will encourage them to reflect on their own position, will give you insight into their thought process, and reveal if they are closed to outside opinions.
If they respond that nothing will make them change their mind, they are closed off and you should end the conversation, pushing past this point is just wasting your time.
26. Get Them To Articulate Their Own Reasons
An effective persuasive tactic is getting the other person so vocalize reasons why they might adopt your position.
If you can encourage the thoughts to come from within the other person and not simply from you telling them what to think, you stand to be more successful in your attempt at persuasion.
For example, you might try asking “Do you see any problems with that position?” Or you can try asking them to help you understand why they adopt the position they have, given the problems that it possesses.
27. Avoid Logical Fallacies
When arguing, be sure that your logic is sound.
For example, don’t say that your conversational partner can only choose to support you or be against you. That’s a false dichotomy and implies that your partner cannot choose a third option or be somewhere in the middle.
Similarly, as discussed above a strawman is a type of fallacy which doesn’t deal with the real argument.
You can look up a list of common logical fallacies, and are encouraged to do so as using these will undermine your credibility of your interlocutor picks up on them.
28. Acknowledge Your Own Bias
We all have our biases (2), and when engaged in an argument it can be difficult to see past them.
If it is possible, acknowledge your biases up front. If you admit your biases, your partner can help you keep track of them and call you out when you are defending something irrationally.
Being intellectually honest will encourage the other person to be honest and admit their biases as well.
29. De-escalate, Remind Them Of What Is Important
As you approach the end of the argument, try to de-escalate the situation.
Calm yourself down and calm the other person by talking in a calm voice and suggesting that you let the issue go for now.
Remind them what is important, perhaps how much you care for each other if it is a romantic partner, or that you need to able to work together if it is a coworker.
Thank them for being willing to talk with you.
30. Don’t Bring It Home
If the argument in question was at work with a coworker, time some time to decompress and mentally leave the argument at work.
To bring lingering frustration home is to bring it into your personal life, to risk displacing your frustration on your housemates or significant other.
This is a sure way to make life worse for everyone involved, so leave it at work.
31. Have A Plan To Move On
Have a plan to reestablish normalcy at the end of the day.
If what is critical is that you be able to work with your coworker, verbally agree that your disagreements won’t impact your working relationship.
Similarly, if the argument was with your significant other, agree to keep helping around the house. Again, do not hold grudges.
Being passive-aggressive or otherwise taking out your frustrations on the other person will just make things worse and lead to more hurt feelings.
Be ready to move on.
Thank you for reading this article about how to argue effectively and productively. I really hope that you take action my advice. I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.