Have you ever been in a group discussion, disagreed with what someone is saying and felt a burning desire to ‘show them the light’? If so – and assuming you acted upon it – how did they respond?
I’m willing to guess not well. People are naturally distrustful of words, they are defensive and stubborn. Beliefs are shaped by experience and can harden into conviction. While your goal might be to influence someone to your school of thought, by arguing you may inadvertently be hardening their resistance.
On the surface, people may appear to agree with you, or at least listen to what you say. The reality is they are probably humouring you or waiting for their turn to speak. Argument is not an effective tool for influence and can have the negative effect of leaving you frustrated.
Never argue with an idiot. They drag you down to their level, then beat you with experience.
If arguing doesn’t work, then how do you change someone’s mind?
First of all, be careful not to totally discount argument. Circumstances may arise when arguing can be beneficial, you may even consider intentionally losing an argument as a means of influence.
When you let someone else win an argument, often you both end up winners.
People need to come to their own conclusions
The single most effective method for influencing someone’s behavior is to lead them down a path in which they make their own decision. If they believe they came up with the idea themselves, the more successful you have been.
What motivates people in their decision making process?
Always remember: most people spend the majority of their focus internally. They want to know; how will this benefit me? Will it change people’s perception of me? Will I be putting myself at risk? Will I have more status or less? Will my life become easier or harder?
Put yourself in their position and try to truly imagine what you would be thinking should the roles be reversed. Understanding this is more important then argument itself, knowing your audience will empower you to choose a better strategy and engage their emotions.
Are arguments holding you back?
How often do you fall into the trap of arguing? Is it keeping you from starting something new, from a happy and fulfilling relationship? Do you get into meaningless arguments, come home in a bad mood and take it out on those you love?
Rise above the bait
It’s important to realise that you have complete power over your reaction to these moments of conflict. The next time you find yourself in an argument try follow these simple three steps.
First step: acknowledge that you are engaged, or about to engage in an argument
Second step: consider the bigger picture. Will winning or even participating in this argument help your greater cause? Will it hinder your goals or alienate those you are speaking with?
Third step: Figure out what your best course of action is. Maybe participating in an argument will give you satisfaction. Whatever you choose though, the very act of analysing the situation before your emotions are engaged will allow you to retain control and choose how you let the situation affect you
Don’t let your pride fuck with you
Some people may have a problem backing down from an argument because they view it as an attack on them personally. I’m not saying that if someone insults you in front of your peers that you should not respond, what I am saying is be aware of meaningless arguments or conflict that will win you nothing by participating.
You feel that sting, big boy, huh? That’s pride FUCKIN’ with you! You gotta fight through that shit!
This post was inspired by one particular argument I recall allowing myself to be drawn into many months ago. Hindsight and reflection allowed me that while I felt I knew I was right, at the end of the day all that happened was that I went home furious, I was poor company to my friend after work and that I overreacted in the office.
I invite you to share your thoughts and experience regarding the futility of argument. Have you ever been so riled up that you said something you regretted or overreacted? If so, please let us know via the comments.