How To Be An Effective Argumenter
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You’ve lost your daily battle to the chocolate cake. You’ve failed to craft a compelling, appealing, persuasive response to your boss’s email. And worse, you find yourself in the middle of a tense argument about why you’re afraid of scary spiders—who cares if it’s not the best way to avoid conflict and burn the bridges of friendship?
You hear yourself yelling in the mirror—like that one 20-something in your office who usually has a whining voice.
It’s tempting to cave. Your need to lock in a decision leads you to make better arguments than ever—but it also leads you to give yourself an easy way out. It starts a cycle of intense arguments and burnt bridges. With each of these scenarios, you feel tempted to just walk away and be done with it.
While walking away is certainly not the best option, it may not be the worst, either. Caving to someone’s physical threat is never the best solution, and it certainly takes away the opportunity to learn about yourself and appreciate your foes. If you want to avoid conflict and burn your bridges, you can learn to avoid the act of arguing in the first place.
Quitting Thinking About the Argument Before it Starts
For starters, you need to let yourself notice if there’s a conflict in your relationship. This can be hard to do when the stakes are high—but as an example, take the time before starting work-related conversations to write your way through a list of issues so you can be ready to discuss them on your own, instead of them being thrown at you. For instance, when you write out your top concerns, you can learn how they relate to one another and how they will not resonate for your “opposing” party.
You can also use your own feelings to help determine how to phrase your points. If you’re passionate about a particular issue, try positioning your point in the context of the big picture: The topic may feel important to you at this moment, but the bigger picture is that it might not be the most important issue for your boss or colleague who needs you to do X or Y.
It may feel more effective if you keep your competing thoughts in a separate email and send each other a response with completely different points. Maybe that works better than offering a back-and-forth conversation. Or you can take the time to really work out the relationship instead. Then go in thinking about the issues, rather than negotiating.
Let go of your need to be right
Once you’ve formulated a point of view, you can be more “transparent.” If there’s a small detail your opposite party doesn’t see, or if you open to a new perspective instead of fighting against it, you’ll be more open to a conversation. You’ll also strengthen your relationship.
Unfortunately, once you do bend on a point, you may revert to arguing. But taking a step back can help strengthen your relationship rather than build it into more of a conflict. This does not mean that you have to be civil—and remember, the goal is for each of you to feel respected. But fighting over an argument can lead to broken connections, whereas negotiation that begins in a healthy way can last.