Top 10 Tips For Winning An Argument
We all love to argue (as is evidenced by the comments on some of the topics on Listverse) but oftentimes an argument ends in a yelling match with insults flying and no conclusion being drawn. Therefore, I have put together this list of tips to help all of us in our future debates – on the site and off. If you take heed of all of my suggestions here, you will be in a much stronger position in future arguments. If you find this list useful, I also recommend you read the book How to Argue & Win Every Time, by Gerry Spence.
When debating you should never raise your voice. You should remain calm at all times. The louder you talk, the louder your opponent talks – and the end result is a yelling match. And of course, it goes without saying that you should definitely not resort to violence. You can even try to talk quieter than normal – as this can draw people in to you and it can make you appear wise. An argument is not won by the person with the loudest voice, it is won by the person with the most compelling arguments.
It is a good idea to try to get your opponent on your side by making statements that you know he agrees with – this puts you in the strong position in the debate. You don’t even need to use a fact relating to your debate – you could, for example, in a debate about the existence of God state “I am sure you agree with me when I say that petrol is overpriced”. As soon as your opponent agrees, you have won a psychological battle. You are no longer the opponent – you are a comrade. This technique is so effective it is used by telemarketers all the time.
It is not a good idea to blatantly tell your opponent that he is wrong – instead you should show that he is wrong through good counter-arguments. Telling a person they are wrong merely annoys them and does nothing for your argument as (at least until you can prove it), it is a subjective comment. Be humble in the debate and show good will – not only will it make you look good if you win, it will show that you are a worthy opponent even if you lose.
Never resort to name calling – even if your opponent does. You must attack your opponent’s argument – not their person. As soon as you begin to criticize your opponent, it becomes obvious that you have run out of ways to defend your view. These types of insults (ad hominem) are a sure way to lose a debate. You should be pleased if your opponent resorts to this feeble attempt to escape the real debate as it means you are close to victory.
When arguing, both parties need to agree on fundamental “truths” to begin with – if you don’t, there can be no debate. What is the point of arguing that the Bible was written by God, when your opponent doesn’t even believe in God? First you should debate the existence of God. If you both agree that He exists, you can then debate the smaller points. If your opponent convinces you that God can not exist, there is little point in arguing about the authorship of the Bible. This is the structure seen in the Summa Theologica by Saint Thomas Aquinas – he starts with the basic points, presents arguments and counter-arguments, and moves on when each point is “proven” by logic.
When a person is beginning to lose an argument, it is quite common to see them try to divert the topic at hand to another – thereby hoping you will not notice their weakness and will get entangled in a whole new debate. When this happens, don’t fall for it. Return to the original topic immediately. Do not give any time to other topics (no matter how tempting it may be) until you have completed the first.
This is the “socratic method”. When your opponent states a “fact” – probe deeper in to the fact with questions that are designed to expose its flaws – these are usually “tell me more” type questions: “can you give me an example?”, “Another way of looking at this is …, does this seem reasonable?”. These questions will invariably lead your opponent to the truth – and if they are honest, they will concede. Unfortunately this is not always the case – I have seen frustrated people depart the debate in anger because they believe you are “trying to trick” them. But don’t worry – this is a win if it happens.
After making a strong argument, let your opponent do all the talking – especially if he lacks the facts to oppose you. He will bluster and fumble – giving you a variety of new weapons with which to attack him. This may not lead to him conceding defeat – but it may lead to him walking away from the debate – a clear victory for you. Many an argument has been won by not arguing at all! As an aside, this is an excellent method for getting your own way – make your request, and when it is declined remain silent. This usually makes the other person so nervous (as no one likes silence) that they may give in just to get out of an uncomfortable situation.
Do not state that something is “true” unless you absolutely know it is – be prepared to prove it if necessary. It is incredibly annoying to debate a topic with a person who is simply making up their argument on the fly. You wouldn’t like it if people did it to you – so don’t do it to others. Only engage in a debate that you know you can win based on facts.
If you have all the facts to back you up, you should be able to win your argument if your opponent is honest. But there will always be times when your opponent gets the better of you and they corner you. When this happens, be a gentleman and concede the win. You should always be graceful in defeat. Nothing is worse than a person who argues simply for the sake of it and absolutely will not give in – no matter how obvious their loss.