Workplaces can often become confrontational places.
They should be, to an extent. Every team needs a healthy dose of conflict in order to remain productive and progressive. Opinions are excellent assets — as are those who’ll continually speak up about what they think.
Conflict gets unproductive when it becomes personal. This is where things get dirty and hurtful, and create the kinds of arguments you shouldn’t feel good about winning.
But that shouldn’t stop you from improving you powers of persuasion to articulate your good ideas.
I’ve won and lost my fair share of arguments over the years, both in ways I’ve felt good about and ways that I’ve not. These experiences – along with excellent advice from mentors – have taught me a few things about how to win an argument.
Firstly, stop thinking of it as an ‘argument’.
The first step is to reframe just what you’re entering into. An argument sounds personal and negative, so start thinking of these conversations differently. An ‘argument’ worth having at work is actually more of a robust conversation that will lead to a productive outcome.
As soon as you think you’re ‘arguing’ you get get defensive, and then ultimately emotional. Your “opponent” may consider it an argument, but you can retain a powerful position in such a discussion by remembering that the goal is ultimately to conclude on a good outcome.
Always keep your cool
Thing get heated when those doing the arguing raise the temperature. You feel strongly about your point and you’re sure it’s the right one, but allow things to get heated and the emotions will creep in and you’ll lose your focus. Actively go out of your way to demonstrate you’re keeping your cool. That may mean agreeing with certain points that are raised, or clarifying a point another person is asking.
Remember facts are your greatest asset
Equipping yourself with facts and figures will not only increase your chances of winning the argument, but also in retaining your cool and ensuring things stay professional. Find relevant data and source quotes and opinions from others. It’s hard to dispute great, relevant facts.
Attack the how, not the why
Ask plenty of questions but start them with ‘how’ rather than ‘why’. Don’t make your opponent justify why they have taken the position they have — it’ll just make them frustrated. Rather, ask them how such a position will be beneficial. Ask for outcomes rather than justifications.
Listen. Really listen
There are few things more annoying than presenting your case to somebody who refuses to really listen. Don’t be that person, it’ll lessen your chances of winning the argument and guarantee your opponent will leave the room feeling pissed off and hard done by.
Really listen to those you’re arguing with, and prove that you’ve heard what they said by repeating lines back to them and probing further into their position with good, relevant questions.
Thank your opponent for their input
If your opinions come out on top (and you’ve won the ‘argument’), demonstrate some good sportsmanship by thanking everyone else for their input. The arguing process was just as important and beneficial as the outcome. Ensure everyone knows they’ve participated in a productive discussion.
To really win a clean argument, you need to make a few compromises a long the way. Concede a few points to the opposition, and find opportunities to have their hard fought ideas included somehow in the outcome. Invite them to participate in a follow up discussion regarding the key points raised, ask them to offer feedback regarding how they think the new project or idea you’ve concluded on is going. Set time in the diary to ensure they feel included in analysing the outcome.