Winning an Argument – How to Convince, Persuade and Move Your Conversation Partner?
We admit – the title is a misnomer. The art of persuasion is more than just winning an argument. Imagine having an argument with a colleague or even your child – most of these arguments merely involve exchanging positions. We have seen this scenario before. You ask your child (politely) to turn in for the night as it is past their bedtime. They steadfastly refuse, hoping instead to finish their game or their TV show. You continue to insist, holding the threat of punishment; they continue to resist. The entire process devolves into a Yes-No battle, and finally, you put your foot down, with your authority as a parent. This is the most obvious example of a positional argument!
Persuasion, on the other hand, requires you to understand the other side, listen to them and act towards a common goal. It even forms a subset of the necessary skillsets practitioners of interest-based negotiation often prescribe. While negotiation or conflict-resolution is a vast topic for another day, there are specific skills from the field that remain relevant, especially if you want to ‘win’ an argument.
In today’s sharing, we will explore three broad skills that you can apply the next time you want to convince, persuade or move your conversation partner.
Skill #1: Surprise! Listening before Reacting
When faced with a different opinion or position, our intuitive response is to react, unpack, and attack. This is the combative stance that is more defensive of our self-interest. In fact, in an argument, your counterpart is more likely to expect you to vehemently defend your position! The first step is an unorthodox one: surprise your argument counterpart by taking a pause and listening to their concerns before reacting to the points as well.
The relevant communication skill here is to exhibit robust and active listening skills. We would highlight the difference between merely hearing as a formality and actively listening. The former is simply lip service – the lack of interest or sincerity in your counterpart’s point will be palpable, especially if they see you itching to get your point in. The latter involves a genuine interest in thoroughly understanding the other party’s position, reasons, and concerns. This goes beyond sitting there patiently, biding for your turn to speak. Your entire focus/attention should be on your counterpart and understanding what they are saying. This is a reversal of their expectations for your behaviour and is more likely to disarm them to respond to you amicably!
*** Let it marinate for a while…listen intently “all right…urh hum…” ***
Skill #2: Understand the WHY; Unpack the Reasons
So, what should I be listening out for? After you can exhibit active listening skills, the next step is to help unpack the reasons by your counterpart. The critical question to ask is a “why” question. This allows you to drill down the specifics of the other party’s position. Some of you may ask – why are we ‘wasting’ considerable time trying to understand the other party’s position when we are better off supporting our position instead?
Well, the process of unpacking the other side’s reasons go beyond relinquishing your position. It is a useful tool to get the other party to test their own position. When they go through a “Why” question, your counterparty is likely to run through all their justifications/concerns again and re-evaluate them. This is so especially if the other party is aggressive or coming from a firm/angry position. This acts as a pause on their intended, combative path and an invitation to re-assess their position and reasons. If you are concerned about sounding polite or professional in unpacking the reasons, use phrases such as “If I understand you correctly …”, “To clarify …”, or “If I may just summarise your concerns …”.
Skill #3: Build the Map to a Combined Treasure
Once you have started the open, genuine and directed sharing between both parties, your main goal now is to build a path towards a combined solution with the other party. The concept of ‘winning’ an argument by ultimately defeating the other party is, in our view, archaic. Instead, the aim of discussion to settle a disagreement, argument or dispute should be to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution that benefits both sides.
This is different from simply finding a middle ground. The term “middle ground” suggests that parties must sacrifice their interests or ‘lose out’ to arrive at an agreement. Instead, a combined solution resolves the parties’ critical interests on both sides instead of fixating on the parties’ starting positions. In short, what each side may have in mind may not be the exact solution that would satisfy their interest. Working together towards a combined solution allows parties to side-step that fixation and work towards each other instead!
Persuade with Power
We go through various disagreements, disputes and debates in your lives. Some of these are informal, trivial arguments in a conversation; others involve a more formal structure, such as a disagreement with a co-worker in a meeting. The overall aim is to avoid trapping yourself in a combative spiral and instead, see the other party as part of the same team in working towards a combined and satisfying solution!
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