Lose the Argument, Win The Cause.

Cows Fighting

Cow Fight via Extra Zebra on Flickr Creative Commons

For a long time, I’ve been struggling with the ability to tell others why they shouldn’t argue with others especially on the internet. I’m not saying to turn the other cheek and run away – what I was trying to say is that it’s not worth the time and energy to argue with someone. It’s better to agree with them and then redirect to what you want them to do. But people I spoke with just didn’t get it. Obviously, these people aren’t dumb – I was just doing a horrible job of explaining what I meant.

Then I came across these posts from John Carlton. I’ve been following John since I had heard an interview with him on (I believe) the Copyblogger podcast. John did a great interview of how he came into the copy writing world and he’s produced some amazing results for his clients so when it comes to knowing what he’s talking about, I trust him.

Anyway, I digest. Here’s his steps for Winning an argument – you can find them all here on his blog or the comments on his facebook. I’m not going to copy his stuff word for word – you should go read it. But I am going to give it my spin for the world of dairy farming.

How to win an argument

Step 1: Never argue back, when your goal is persuasion.

This is probably the toughest thing to do. We are definitely hardwired to defend our positions and strike out when we feel our views are threatened.

But the important thing here (especially online) is that this is a losing proposition. No one will win here – what will happen is that everyone will see the shouting match going on back and forth until it escalates into name calling. I’m sure you’ve seen this hundreds of times on facebook, twitter, youtube, etc… It’s even worse when people’s identities are anonymous.

I love what John says here about how their minds will change -

They WILL change their minds, but not because you demolished their belief system with crap like logic and debate moves. They will change because of an internal epiphany that is akin to death/rebirth.

So the main lesson is here “don’t fight back” unless you just want the adrenaline rush and don’t care if this person will hate both you and your cause.

Step 2: Define what “win” means to you.

This is a big boy/girl step and it’s not quite as hard as the first step. What are you trying to accomplish and why in the world did you engage this person in the first place. You need to answer this. If there is really no larger goal in mind, then step away. You aren’t going to convince them of anything anyway.

In social media/digital world, there are considerations here. You are probably arguing in front of an audience. Both theirs and yours. So you really need to think about that. I would also say that don’t consider email a private place. I’ve seen many people say things in email that got transferred (copy paste) directly into the lime light. So always be careful in digital.

If I engage someone with an opposing viewpoint, I want to persuade them into doing something that is a “win” for me (even if it looks like I got my butt kicked in the argument). Let me give you an example. At a previous job, I was constantly bickering with a dept over their approvals of tools I needed for my team. After a few backroom arguments (which I believed I won but in reality didn’t get us any closer to getting the tools), I decided to change my tactics. My goal was getting the tools and not winning the arguments. So my new tactic was to (which is the next step) to agree with them and redirect to what I wanted.

I’ll explain what happened after the next step from John.

Step 3: Use “yes, and” to reframe for the “win”.

This is what John says about the last step in winning an argument. He’s written a lot more here so go read the rest of it but here’s what he says.

You disarm anger, reframe the context (so you’re not wallowing in the stuck-in-one-place psychological wastelands that stubborn people like to fight in), and “come in through a side door” (as old school salesmen like to say).

You don’t engage head-on, you ignore irrationality, and because you’re so clear on your goal, you take your ego out of it. Use the old improv theater tactic of never being negative yourself — say ‘Yes… AND…’ while moving things toward the discussion you actually want to have.

This is so, so important. You win because you reframed the argument and you get what you want. Remember if there is nothing I really want from the person then don’t argue. But this person has something you want (influence, budget, tools, etc…) then you need to persuade and you persuade by not arguing.

So here’s what happened in the example. Instead of arguing, I started agree with the other dept. “Yes, I agree these tools are a bit out of range for our normal budget and yes, the security is questionable. Yes, I agree with your points. I understand you have a class on the dangers of these tools. How about my guys all attend these classes, become experts and advocates about how you feel about these tools and will be someone you can rely on to back you up if other people want these types of tools. But they really need to have access to these tools so they can become the experts on which ones work and which ones don’t. The dept head thought about it and gave us the access we needed.” Now this is just a paraphrasing of everything that went down but it worked.

Now, do I do this all the time? Nope. Do I still argue? Yep.

Because I’m human and I don’t always control my emotions as well as I should. But I do want you to understand that arguing passionately very rarely convinces anyone but the people that already agree with you that you are doing the right thing. You can see the polarization in many things like politics, religion, music, etc…

But if you really want to persuade someone than I suggest you use John’s steps above. And, of course, if you want to argue against me, feel free. I’m up for it. “Yes, I agree with you…AND”

What do you think about winning an argument?

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9 comments

  1. Alison Gunn says:

    I wanted to reframe something you wrote above and let you know that you were not "agreeing" with your opponents. What you were doing was a) Identifying with them, and taking their position seriously (giving them respect) and b) establishing common ground. Essentially, what we do when we stop defending our position "blindly" is take a look at the opposition's stance; there is probably *some* merit in some of the things they're saying, some of the things they're accusing you of. The key here is that you are not agreeing, in the sense that now you feel or believe exactly what they do. The key is that you are taking their position into account; you've removed your "I must win at all costs" blindness/negativity, that is, in fact, preventing you from making any headway, and acknowledging that when they disagree with you (in spite of how enraged that might make you feel) they might have a point. In fact, once you accurately assess their perspective, you might find that your argument crumbles. The hardest part is not "agreeing" with them; the hardest part is removing your ego from the discussion long enough to see that on some points, or even only *one* point, they might be exactly right. At the very least, you will have granted them the respect of listening to their argument seriously enough to establish good will, which goes a long way toward being heard in otherwise deeply emotional situations.

  2. Marcus Hollmann says:

    Often, winning an argument in a social media discussion comes down to 'sticking it to the opponent'. Wondering how many times each side feels like they 'won' the argument? And even if one side 'won' the argument, it's likely just a phyrrhic victory, because many silent readers were ticked off in the process.

  3. @Alison – great points there. You should definitely join the discussion over at John Carlton’s blog post and facebook page.

    @Marcus – winning is definitely in the eyes of the beholder because I believe a lot of conflict on social media sites does nothing but irritate most viewers. It’s not that everyone wants to just “get along” – it’s that we shifted our viewing to concentrate on things we already agree with.

  4. Bill Bakan says:

    Much of this post is what I define as the art of "Statesmanship". It is the difference between simple management and true leadership. To affect true change you must lead people not drive them. ("You can lead a horse to water….") Often time people's positions are not only defined by their beliefs but more their worries. Identify and understand what motivates them and what they value first, ( you need not agree, but you must understand ). It is one thing to get people to do or say what you want or even simply not oppose what you champion. It is a whole other thing to get them to take it a step further and believe what you think to be true and act upon it independently. Keep in mind one must always tactically ascertain the person and the context as well. Not all methods will be equally effective based upon personality types, again because they have different value systems. I don't look at life so much as "winning" because that implies there is a "loser" and then you have to watch you back, and that diverts resources you can you use to move forward. A true winner (except say you a in a true "battle" ie; D-Day etc.). So I never try and win an argument I try and reach the conclusion there never was really a problem in the first place.

  5. Thanks. Now I know your tactics. Best of luck.

  6. [...] As my friend Janice says, there are times it’s best to choose the middle ground. But if you still have an itching to engage in an argument, my friends at Just Farmers have shared some tips you need to read first. [...]

  7. Anonymous says:

    I agree that "winning" an argument doesn't always mean you actually win. Arguments shouldn't be seen as competitions or doing your best to beat the other person. No, I believe disagreement is the perfect chance to learn something new and broaden your horizons. I like what John says, " … they will change their minds, but not because you demolished their belief systems… with logic [but] because of an internal epiphany." A persons mind can only be changed by themselves. I enjoy discussing challenging topics with people that require me to think and actually listen to what I do not want to hear.

  8. […] But sometimes, honestly, you just have to know how to lose gracefully. And then some will argue it’s possible to lose the argument, but win the cause. […]

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