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How to Win An Argument in 4 Steps

With polarization on the rise, wouldn't it be handy to know how to win an argument with anyone about anything? Try this approach the next time you butt heads with someone.

Step 1 Listen

Listen to what the other person is saying - really listen. Because you need to remember the main points that they are making for the next step. If your brain is shifting through possible comebacks that you will launch into as soon as they stop speaking, then you aren’t paying close enough attention.

Step 2 Summarize

When the other person stops speaking, summarize your understanding of their main points. Maintain a neutral tone and resist the urge to scoff or roll your eyes. Ask the other person whether they agree that you summarized their perspective accurately. It could look something like this —

“So if I understand you, an army of evil clowns is coming from outer space to take over the world. Did I get that right?”

Notice that I didn’t say I agreed or disagreed with their viewpoint. I just restated my understanding of what they said.

Step 3 Move Forward or Go Back

Now this is where the discussion can go in different directions. Ideally, they will explain “Yes - you got it!” in which case move forward to the next step. But there’s a chance that they will reiterate their perspective. Perhaps they aren't satisfied with your summary or they weren’t listening to you. Either way repeat the first two steps until they agree that you have summarized their perspective accurately.

illustration of two cartoon figures arguing with each other

True story - I have watched people go at each other with so much enthusiasm (and so little listening) that they didn't realize that they were saying the same thing. I confess that it was kinda fun to say, “You know you guys are vehemently agreeing with each other, right?”

illustration of two cartoon figures looking surprised

Step 4 List Areas of Agreement and Explore Differences

List areas where your perspectives overlap. and gently mention where your perspective differs. You could say —

“I agree with you that clowns are scary but I don't know if they ride around in space ships. Don’t clowns usually drive tiny cars with amazing seating capacity?”

Once people feel heard and understood, they may be ready to entertain other perspectives. But that doesn’t always happen.

Our opinions are formed from:

  • Our beliefs - often subconscious and formed in childhood

  • The meaning that we attribute to our life experiences 

  • Information we receive from sources that we trust

All of these sources are unique to the individual so of course we are going to have different perspectives.

illustration listing things that shape our opinions

Let’s take the example of someone who has worked hard all their life and attained a comfortable life style. They believe that hard work pays off. On the other hand, someone who has worked hard all their life and still struggles to pay their bills may not believe that hard work pays off. Which one is right? They both are! Despite holding two distinctly different opinions and both are right.

Also, these aspects are subject to change. I used to be a perfectionist (ask anyone who worked with me). My need for perfection stemmed from my belief that mistakes were to bad. Only after some deep inner work did I become aware of this subconscious belief from my childhood. Then I was able to release it.

I used to believe that weight loss was a simple balancing of calories in / calories out through diet and exercise because that's what the textbook for my Health Coach certification said. It was information from a source that I trusted plus it seemed logical. But in the decades since 1997 numerous studies have shown that weight loss is much more complicated. To help my clients, I had to learn new perspectives on weight loss.

Reframing Winning

How do you win an argument with anyone about anything? By reframing winning.

It feels good when other people agree with us. But why is that? I think it goes back to our survival instinct. Humans form communities for communal safety and mutual benefit. Knowing that the other members of our community share our perspective reinforces our sense of safety. If I disagree with other members of my community, the tribe might vote me out or bonk me on the head. But modern society is different. If my neighbor votes for a different candidate or has a different opinion about what books should be on the shelves in our local library, my physical safety is not at risk. I don't need other people's validation to reassure me I am right. My opinion is true for me just as their opinion is true for them.

Your power is not in your ability to get other people to see the world the same way that you see it. Your power lies in feeling comfortable with your truth without seeking validation from others … and being open to changing your mind.


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