Winston Churchill was arguing with a woman at a dinner party.
Churchill was a difficult man, with a strong personality, and was willing to defend his point of view.
The two kept going back and forth until she finally said, “If I were your wife, I would poison your coffee.”
Churchill replied, “If I were your husband, I would drink.”
I never think about these comebacks in the heat of the moment. It is always during my drive home that I realize I could have completely possessed this other person. The French have a saying for this, “L’esprit D’escalier”, or ladder wit.
The truth is, I hate arguing. I don’t like conflict. But I studied the argument a lot because it is very important.
You need to present a good, solid argument to secure a pay raise, decrease conflict, suffer bullshit, protect friendships, and much more.
Snipe an argument like a champ
Rule 1: Don’t go in too hot, and this isn’t just about emotions.
For example, in court, witnesses have been shown to be more credible to jurors when they express moderate rather than low or high confidence. It has a direct impact on the results of the verdict and sentence.
When you have low confidence, you seem unsure of yourself and what you say.
When you’re overconfident, you come across as arrogant, insecure, or ego-driven (“I have to win!”).
As funny and memorable as Churchill’s example was, it was not the most efficient way to win someone over.
Scientist Paul Graham created a hierarchy of disagreements, ranking the best and worst debating strategies. The lowest are personal attacks and insults.
The #1 way to argue is to keep a strong central point. Do not repeat this multiple times. Just build everything around it.
Staying focused is extremely important during couple fights. One of the most common pieces of advice from marriage counselors is: “Always stick to what you’re discussing.”
Without taking other skeletons and resentments out of the closet.
“You want to talk about sharing chores, but you can’t even pay your own bills.”
“And you wonder why I hate your fat family.”
You’d be surprised how many kind and polite people develop devil horns when they fight with their spouses.
They turn a simple disagreement into a nuclear holocaust.
By the end of the discussion, your head is spinning and burning. You can’t even remember what the original plot was about.
Argue when you’re sure you’re right
There is nothing better than knowing that you can bury someone.
You know you have the science. You have the logic. You have the standards of human decency.
When you arrive with guns blazing and all your evidence cleared, the other person locks you up. They will feel intimidated and unable to listen to you.
It is proven that the best arguers use a small number of key points. They don’t shoot quickly or slap the person in the face while they’re talking.
They ask questions. They know that changing someone’s mind is nearly impossible. By asking questions, that person will change their mind.
Great arguers remain calm, kind, and empathetic, no matter how ignorant or stupid their target is.
They usually open by acknowledging the things they agree with. They usually praise their opponent in the first minute.
The soft opening is disarmed. is unexpected. Highlights a desire for consensus rather than war and condescension.
I’ve spent the last five years writing on the internet, on platforms where anyone can comment.
In all of this name-calling and horrible language and aggression, I have never seen a single person stop and say, “You know what, you’re right. I’m wrong. We all learned a lot today.”
Not even once.
Persuasion begins with kindness, not fire. It is as HG Wells wrote: “The first man to raise his fist is the man who has run out of ideas.”
The lesson is to be a great arguer
- Stay calm and confident, but don’t drift into the land of overconfidence.
- Show empathy and a goal of progress.
- Keep the argument focused on one clue. Don’t let this turn into six different arguments.
- Start by acknowledging the things you agree with.
- Stick to a few strengths. Don’t dominate them and feel the need to dominate if you have the upper hand.
The idea is that the two of you walk away feeling that you have evolved from the discussion.
It’s hard to remain kind and understanding in the face of idiocy and aggression.
But if you do, you will be the true champion. You will walk away proud of your actions, instead of regretting them.