How to win an argument (Hint: You can’t)

Arguments are never truly won.  Even if your reasoning and debating ability crushes your opponent, no one truly wins.  When you argue with someone, you each make your points with the idea that your brilliance will somehow magically convince the other person to drop all of their beliefs and agree with you.  I’ve lived my life for a long time thinking arguments were about winning and losing.  Growing up, a good debate about politics or religion was part of a normal discussion around my family.  We all loved each other, but we loved to debate different issues.  As I left the nest I soon realized that my family wasn’t the norm, many people have a hard time debating an issue without taking it personally.  So if you engage them in a debate, they may view it as combative and it could hurt your relationship.  I have tirelessly debated with people thinking it was normal, only to realize later that every point I made just pushed that person away further.

Not productive

Not productive

I do not disagree with the idea of debate.  I believe healthy debate is necessary for a civilization to grow and challenge the status quo.  However, I have learned that the “I’m right, you are wrong” mentality will never accomplish a real win.  I agree with Dale Carnegie that the only way to win an argument is to avoid it.  If you do find yourself in a discussion that turns into an argument, try to follow the following things:

1. Be aware of your “non-verbal” communication – Over 60% of our communication is non-verbal, and we send so many physical cues to people around us.  If you get mad, there is a good chance your nostrils will flare and you may even show your teeth like a wolf in the Game of Thrones.

2. Listen to the Tone – Another 30% of communication is interpreted in the volume and inflection in your voice (leaving only 10% of communication to the actual words you say).  My friends remind me all of the time when my voice starts to get loud in a discussion (it happens frequently).  Remember the old saying, “It is not what you say, but how you say it.”  Stay calm, take a deep breath, and make sure your audience thinks you are relaxed.

3. Argue the point, not the person – I can’t emphasize this point enough.  When you engage in debate, make sure you don’t make any personal attacks or go after the other person.  Focus on the issue at hand and keep it at a high level.  No low blows.


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Joey Mattingly, PharmD, MBA is an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy located in Baltimore, Maryland. Joey has managed retail and long-term care pharmacy operations in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana. Leading Over The Counter is a blog of Joey's views and opinions on the topics of pharmacy leadership and management and do not represent the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Joey can be followed on Twitter @joeymattingly.

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