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How to Argue Effectively - the "DO" list

Updated on August 6, 2013
Try to listen and hear the other person out, without going on the defensive.
Try to listen and hear the other person out, without going on the defensive.

It’s worth taking the time to consider how to argue efficiently and positively, because we all end up at variance with someone or other from time to time. Being an expert at arguing does not necessarily mean you will win every argument but it does mean you will fight fair and have a useful exchange of views with your “opponent”.

Aim for your confrontation, disagreement, conflict or quarrel to be more of a discussion and an opportunity for better perception of each other’s viewpoints, reasoning and feelings – in other words, a communications exercise.

Whether arguing with colleagues, family members, friends or your partner, here are some strategies you can aim to employ during the course of a difficult dialogue to make for a more constructive exchange of opinions and a win/win outcome. The list is not exhaustive, but well worth bearing in mind.

DO !

DO learn the art of active listening. This means showing the other person that you are hearing, and taking note of, what they are expressing by saying things like “I see” “hmm” “I hear what you say” etc. Make eye contact at regular intervals too. Active listening doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with what the other person says. However, it shows that you are respectful of their voicing their opinion. When having a difficult conversation with someone, there is nothing worse that coming away with the feeling that you have not been heard.

DO have the patience to hear the other person out. This is not easy when you are bursting to say something yourself or when you feel the other person is being extremely long winded. If you are frequently in disagreement with someone who is persistently verbose, when times are good explain that you would appreciate putting some time limits in place as regards taking turns to speak.

DO recognise that just because the other person may not be very articulate, it does not mean that they do not have valid points to make. Be patient with them as they still have a right to be heard.

DO refrain from negative gestures such as rolling your eyes or tapping your fingernails when the other person is speaking. Such discourtesy is likely to inflame the other person and negatively escalate the argument.

DO try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes / see things from their point of view and accept that your perceptions may differ.

DO limit the scope of the argument to the current issue – i.e. keep a lid on bringing up things that happened, say, 15 years ago and have no relation to the current problem. On the other hand, don’t constantly let things go unsaid to the point where you become resentful. It is best to air differences sooner rather than later if they are deemed worthy of a debate.

DO seek clarification and check understanding – don’t assume you already know what the other person is thinking. For example, telling you best friend that you know that they think you are a fool may be inaccurate, and cause offense should the whole issue turn out to be a misunderstanding.

DO mirror/paraphrase what the other person has said to you from time to time to check you have understood them correctly.

DO use “I” statements – e.g. I feel it is unfair for me to have to do the dishes every night” rather than “you are unfair to make me do the dishes every night” which will likely instantly put the other person on the defensive. “I” statements are less accusatory than “you” statements.

DO argue in private – don’t involve third parties to embarrass the person you are arguing with or try to force a third party to take your side. As the saying goes, praise in public, argue in private.

DO be prepared to make an acknowledgement/hold your hands up and apologise should you realise that you were in the wrong.

DO be prepared to agree to differ if there is a stalemate, and learn to be content with this in the interests of your future interactions with the person in question.

Sticking Points

If the other person persists in interrupting you after you have waited and listened carefully to what they have had to say, respectfully and quietly remind them that you did just that and would like to have the opportunity to put your own points across without constant interruption.

Where tit for tat points keeps coming into the conversation, or where one person is getting overly frustrated or angry, it is time for a time out.

Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day and not every disagreement will be resolved in one exchange of views. Do not allow sessions to go on endlessly as a time out allows both parties to reflect on what has been said and allows time to more thoughtfully reject/accept the arguments and reasoning put forward. Overly extended sessions can escalate into full blown ranting.

Not all argument will result in your partner, friend, boss, relative or whoever changing their mind and agreeing that you were right all along. In many cases, airing viewpoints and being heard is all that is necessary to clear the air. Be conscious of when to simply let things stand and move on rather than press for an admission or apology.

NB: If you suspect or believe you may have anger management issues, it will be necessary to address this concern in order to achieve a balanced exchange of views with anyone you are in disagreement with.

Do you have any tips to share on arguing effectively?

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