August 26, 2007

The art of arguing.

“I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me.” -Dave Barry

The ability to argue is a skill, and just like any other skill you acquire, it takes practice. As we face even the smallest of arguments everyday, it would be acceptable to state that we all have quite a lot of experience in the matter. But being a history teacher for twenty or thirty years doesn’t exactly make you a good one, does it? Regardless, we are faced with battles of beliefs in our daily lives, and often without any intention of being involved.

So how does one go about winning these contests of will then? It’s simple, because it’s not about whether you’re right or wrong. It’s about winning. Your own beliefs, like theirs, are completely irrelevant other than serving as the basis for the argument. If you truly believe that you can convince someone of an opposing view to feel the same about an issue as you through basic reasoning and logic, then this isn’t a guide for you. There’s only one way for an opponent to come to an agreement or compromise with you, and that’s through violence. Instead, I’m going to teach you how to win an argument, and give you techniques on how to garner bragging rights and make your opponent feel like an ignorant sack of shit.

The Basics:

How can you tell if you’ve won? There are two possibilities to the outcome of an argument. One is the stalemate. This result occurs prematurely, usually ending with the other party becoming too upset to continue. You must prevent this at all costs. This conclusion is lose/lose and means you both fucking suck at arguing. The other result is completely and utterly exhausting their resources and potential rebuttals. Like baseball, there could end up being extra innings before it’s over, but unlike baseball, neither side is actually going to be declared a winner. This is simply distinguished by how well you perform and who has prevented the other from continuing.

One of the most effective ways to gain the upper hand is to simply not say anything at all. Just let them do the talking for a while. In fact, if given the chance, many people will reveal the flaws in their arguments by simply being allowed to speak. Just watch and listen, and wait for the opening in which the faults and weaknesses become obvious. Be careful not to lose your footing though, especially if they’re providing a strong case, as this could easily lead you to pondering too much on what they’re saying and not what you’re preparing to say when they’re finished. Keep focused and don’t become distracted or the battle will be over before you even begin.

Not everyone will be so inclined to speak their entire case so quickly, especially the ones that are more skilled than others. Asking questions is of course inevitable for both parties, but instead of just being a cog in the clock, it can be used as an incredible tool to give you the advantage. Vague questions are your worst enemy. Unfortunately all first questions must be vague. Break away from this as soon as you can. Your goal is to use as many rhetorical and trick questions as you can. Your questions are less of a means to information, and more for the purpose of distraction and sabotage. Confusion is you’re greatest ally, and you must use it well. Even more satisfying than destroying their point of view is making them forget it and everything they were going to say.

Things to Avoid:

Arguing is much like a driver’s license. It’s a privilege, not a right. Many people you attempt to argue with are going to realize very quickly as it begins that they are not going to win, and will often resort to restating their original premise over and over until it wears you down. In most cases, these people care nothing for winning, only to make you think and feel the way that they do about the subject. But as they begin to see that they’re starting to lose, they’ll instead try to spare themselves from the embarrassment of presenting a weak case and getting their asses handed to them by someone better prepared and more aptly skilled.

It’s impossible to prevent them from backtracking. No matter what you do or say, they are going to keep treading the water hoping they’ll last longer than you. Many arguments will be unresolved in these situations, but if you keep your cool and use your head, you can still extract some satisfaction by forcing them to explain their side. It’s understandable that you’ll become irritated at their games, but the best way to get them to continue instead of regress is dishonesty. Pretend to actually be interested in their point of view and request that they elaborate so you can better understand. If they’re no longer reluctant, then all you have to do is let them do the talking, and the giant, gaping holes in their pile of bullshit will become all too obvious. And the best part after they've explained themselves is that they can no longer continue repeating their original statements.

At all costs, you must not feed off of your emotions, even potentially taking a few steps back. Insults and a change in the tone of your voice, though effective tools for distraction, are not going to see you through to the end of the argument. Getting too personal will indeed cause them to lose their train of thought, but will immediately bring the equal or greater course of action back in your direction. It will become an inescapable cycle until one of the two parties will say something much more personal than the other will be able to accept, and then the argument is over. Instead, retain your composure, and if the other person opts to extreme measures, then play on their emotions, not feed. Anger is a great weapon, provided they aren’t too spiteful that it prevents them from continuing to engage you. Let their rage blind them and cool them back down. You’ll come to find that they’ve misplaced parts of their argument.

You also don’t want to pick apart everything they say. Find only the strengths in the point they’re trying to make and tear them down. If you dispute too many of the minor details, they will: (1.) Potentially become too angry to continue the argument, resulting in a waste of your time, and (2.) you will lose sight of your goal, which is to win. Remember, what you believe is irrelevant. Only winning matters.

Advanced Techniques:

Manipulation is a very useful tool, but practically impossible to master considering the great potential of backfiring. It’s basically an advanced stage of playing on their feelings and emotions. Using tools like guilt and concealing your motives and plans are effective only so far. Eventually you begin to either anger them by becoming too personal or they start to use the same techniques on you. Guilt is only useful when you can make them feel it without actually blaming them. This usually involves direct questions or actually pretending to take the blame all yourself, resulting in even more guilt on their part. This is what I generally consider fighting dirty, and should probably be used as a last resort. Though effective, it definitely won’t win an entire argument for you.

Reading and giving body language can turn out to be quite handy as well. Some tricks have proved the test of time, such as watching the eyes and posture. Some people can give away the strength of their argument just by how their body responds to the pressure and your own reactions. Take heed to control your own though, as most tend to forget this or even acknowledge it. Just as well, it’s actually in itself a form of manipulation, as you can force yourself to give the wrong impression in the situation. If you know you’re telling them a lie, then look them straight in the eyes and tell them as if you truly believe it. Don’t look away, and make sure to say it with conviction.

And what’s the most important tool of all? Planning. The others are techniques, but this is something you must redo each time. You must plan for all possible rebuttals and questions that the other person will have. More than likely their questions will not be used as distractions, but that’s not going to stop you from being caught off your feet by a few of them. You can’t let them use your own weapons against you or you’re both fucked. I should also say that you should never argue over a subject you know little or nothing about, or you’re going to get your ass handed to you, and you’ll deserve every bit of it. You’re in this to win, and you can only do that by ruining their shit. If you share in their embarrassment, even a little, then you lose. But if you achieve victory, you’ll feel great about yourself, and at someone else’s expense, no less. And that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

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