We all like to win an argument, but at work there can be far more than just your personal pride at stake. As a leader, or as part of team, it is important that you are able to manage arguments effectively. You need to ensure that your opinions are fully understood by others, but you also need to understand why someone objects to your point of view.
Even if you know you have a good point, you can still lose an argument for a variety of reasons. These ten tips will help to ensure that you always manage to get your opinions across in an argument:
1. Find out what your opponent is worried about, and address that issue:
Your opponent is arguing because there is something they are afraid of or worried about. This could be the main subject of the argument, but you should also be aware that the argument may just be a symptom of an anxiety about something related to it. Be prepared to delve a bit deeper to identify what it is they are afraid of. When you know what this is, examine the options for how to address their concern.
2. Do not allow your opponent to tell you what your opinion is and do not presume to tell them theirs:
Often in arguments people are arguing against an opinion that they believe (wrongly) is held by the other person. Be careful not to do this yourself and do not allow it to be done to you. Take the time to ask the other person to explain their view and make sure you listen to the response. This can help avoid having arguments about problems that do not actually exist.
3. Do not get dragged into past problems and misdemeanors, but concentrate instead on what can be done differently in future:
A lot of arguments can be traced back to historical grievances or grudges. Dwelling on these things will usually just result in going round in circles, so it is important to acknowledge the past, but then focus attention on what actions you can agree to improve things from now on.
4. Resist the urge to interrupt:
When someone says something that you don’t agree with, or which you think is incorrect, the urge to interrupt can be overwhelming. You must resist it, otherwise your opponent will not be allowed to have their say and feel (understandably) that they are not being listened to. They will then feel frustrated, which could lead to anger. Let them finish, then give your own balanced reasons why you do not agree with what they have said.
5. Don’t get angry – get reasonable:
You have to understand that as soon as you raise your voice you have lost the argument. No matter what the other person says, you should not raise your voice. If they raise theirs, it is even more important that you remain calm, both in voice and body language. What happens all too often is that one person raises their voice a little, and the other person does the same and within seconds it has escalated into a shouting match. When this happens no-one is going to achieve anything. It is up to you to remain calm yourself and encourage the other person to do so by your actions. You could suggest that you both remain calm, but steer clear of phrases like ‘calm down’ or ‘cool it’, which are only likely to make things worse.
6. Give way on unimportant issues:
You do not have to slam your opponent on every single statement they make. Giving way on minor points that do not ultimately matter much can go a long way to making them more amenable over the bigger issues.
7. Aim for movement in the right direction, rather than a hands down win:
It may be unrealistic to expect to convert your opponent entirely to your point of view, so try to get agreement to some movement in the right direction. Once you achieve that, it is much easier to make further progress later.
8. Stick to facts that you can prove and steer clear of personal opinion:
In the heat of an argument it can be tempting to bring in the opinions of others, or things that you have heard from other people. This can be fatal unless you know you can back it up with evidence. Assume such statements will be challenged or denied, and don’t use them if you cannot back them up as fact.
9. Stick to the point and avoid being side-tracked into peripheral issues:
A common pattern in arguments is for them to move into wider areas than the starting point. Sometimes these can still be relevant, but very often they are not, and if you are not careful, most of your time is spent arguing about something else. Spot when this happens and bring it back to the main point. If need be you can say the other issue can be discussed separately.
10. Be respectful and discuss behaviours rather than personalities:
It can be all too easy to slide into personal insult in an argument, which can only end badly. You should always treat the other person with respect and if you need to discuss how they are personally you should talk about what they do and what they say, rather than anything about personality. Behaviour can be changed, but an attack on personality can only ever be taken personally.
Can you think of any other tips for winning arguments?