How to win an argument

Written by Ashley

One of my jobs as a lawyer is to be persuasive. Sometimes I fail, sometimes I succeed. That said, I have become much more effective recently with my persuasion abilities than I was when I first started as a lawyer. That’s because I’ve spent a lot of time studying cognitive psychology and the latest science as it relates to how the human mind works.

Here’s a nice tip that I recently read that I thought you may be able to use in your own life. If you want to win an argument, don’t argue. As soon as you start arguing with someone, their brain puts up defensive mechanisms. If you start your “argument” by arguing, people will start to immediately think about all the reasons that you’re wrong and they are right. It’s next to impossible to convince someone that you are right and they are wrong by arguing your position first.

Start by asking good questions

The most effective way to persuade people to see your position is to start by asking questions. Question the other person about why they feel the way they feel and ask them to support their position with facts and information. Inquire how strongly they feel about their position and whether they would ever be willing to change it.

When you argue with somebody their brain goes into “fight or flight mode.” They want to protect their ideas like they are some sort of expensive jewelry. On the other hand, when you ask people questions, they don’t go into fight or flight mode. Instead they automatically start thinking about why they believe the way they believe.

Most people don’t spend any time at all actually trying to determine whether their thoughts and ideas are correct or incorrect. They would rather come up with conclusions based on what they want to be true, and then, after the fact, look for reasons to support the position they already hold. This is called “confirmation bias in cognitive psychology.

When you ask people to support the positions they hold with actual facts, you’ll discover that most people’s thoughts and opinions are based on nothing but thin air, tradition, conventional wisdom, the way they grew up, what their parents told them, what some influential teacher told them, what they read on the Internet, or some other less than fact-based reason.

Let them figure things out on their own

You have to let people convince themselves that they figured all this out on their own. You have to let people learn for themselves why they may be incorrect in the way they think about certain things. And the only way to do that is to ask them questions and let them figure it out.

So if you want to be more persuasive, if you want to “win” more arguments with your spouse, your boss, your coworkers, or your kids, stop arguing with them. Instead, be genuinely and openly curious and ask them questions about why they think the way they think and feel the way they feel.

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