Let’s imagine now a situation I’m sure you’ll recognize. You’re discussing with your partner, a friend or a colleague that you like. You two don’t agree in whatever you’re discussing, and somewhere along the way the general mood gets infected as you both argue your respective points. In such a scenario, how often do you hear any party concede after having heard their opponent’s argument? How often will you hear something like, ”You know what, you’re actually right – I agree with you now!”
It simply does not happen!
When we argue it’s as if we’re in a competition – and most of us refuse to lose. Even if the opposing party presents an argument you’d agree with, it’s incredibly difficult to agree with the person. We’ll either lie and claim that we disagree, or we’ll discard their point with an argument like ”Yeah well that only holds true for very specific contexts…” or ”You also have to consider the following…” And thus, we move focus in the discussion towards something where we’re more likely to ’win’.
Arguments are of course the rhetorical tools that come to mind when we think of trying to convince someone, regardless of that being your partner or manager. But on a pure psychological level, arguments are rarely the best way to go. Instead, you’ll need a broader set of rhetorical tools to fully enable strategizing in your persuasive abilities.
"When the conflict between you disappear and the discussion stops being about winners & losers, you’ll both be able to approach your arguments with a stronger rationale."
We don’t like to be persuaded by anyone but ourselves. This is the reason why arguments alone seldom work. We’re very prone to conversational gridlock, especially in situations where the conflict devolves into a ”I’m right and you’re wrong”-kind of thing. Instead, what you want to get good at is to shift the focus from ”you’re my problem” to ”you and I have a problem… now how do we solve it?”. When the conflict between you disappear and the discussion stops being about winners & losers, you’ll both be able to approach your arguments with a stronger rationale.
Never start a discussion by saying you’re right (thus implying that your opponent is wrong), or a presentation by claiming that you’re going to convince the audience. If you do, you’ll frame the situation in a mode of conflict and then it won’t even matter how good your suggestions are, you still won’t get any agreement since your opponent will feel as if they’ve lost something if they agree.
Those that are experts of persuasion utilize a much more humble approach, where they’ll present facts and suggestions followed by having the other person to choose how to interpret the information. ”I’m thinking something like this… because… based on X… what are your thoughts?”. If their counterpart now responds harshly with something like ”That’ll never work”, don’t fall into the trap of arguing ”Yes it will, because X” – that fight you’ll never win. Instead, ask a smarter question like ”What needs to change for this to work?” or ”What have I missed taking into account?”. All the energy your opposer would use to shoot down your arguments have now been moved to finding a solution toward your suggestions. Suddenly you’re working with each other instead of against each other.
About the author: Pontus F. Christoffersen is a rhetoric consultant and speaker at Snacka Snyggt. There, he manages educational presentations on negotiation, and his didactic strengths lie in his ability to weave together rhetorical and psychological tools to generate a sharp personal precision in the methods he shares with audiences.