Estimated Lesson Time: 5 minutes
One of the greatest obstacles that stands in the way of success is one’s own ego. It seems to be in our nature to prove our superiority, point out when others are wrong, and become very defensive when others point out when we are wrong. Constructive debating and talking out a difference of opinion are appropriate at times, but it’s usually best to avoid arguments when possible.
An argument is characterized by the expression of disagreement in which emotions and egos often get in the way of a favorable outcome. It has been estimated that 9 out of 10 arguments end up in a lose-lose situation. Someone once said, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” Also, even if you think you won the argument by presenting stronger facts, you have lost the good will of those with whom you are arguing. In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, he had this to say about those who argue, “...these disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.” The best way to “win” an argument is to avoid it altogether.
The majority of people believe that the best way to win someone to your way of thinking or get someone to see your point of view is by arguing. In fact, the opposite is true. The moment you contradict another you are putting that person on the defensive, and in an effort to protect his or her own ego, the other person will continue to disagree. Most of the time, they will just convince themselves even more that they are right, and you are wrong. In psychology, this is known as the backfire effect. The ability to win someone to your way of thinking is an extremely valuable skill to have but has nothing to do with arguing, contradicting, or proving another to be wrong.
It is without question that arguing does more damage than good. As a successful communicator, knowing when to hold your tongue and show tact is essential. Do you ever find yourself contradicting others to make yourself feel smarter or superior, to convince yourself that you are right or contradicting just out of plain habit? If so, ask yourself what you really have to gain by doing this. How will you make the other person feel? What will others think of you for publicly delivering a strong blow to another’s ego?
There will be times, of course, when others disagree with you and attempt to initiate an argument. It is most important to keep in mind the ultimate goal: to create a win-win situation. Here are some suggestions on how to do just that.
- Welcome disagreements. Success is about keeping an open mind and remaining flexible. When others disagree with you, they are actually presenting you with other possibilities.
- Do not be defensive. Resist reacting to disagreement and control your temper and emotion. Remember that being defensive of your opinion or belief will only fuel the argument.
- Listen. Many times an upset or angry person just wants to be heard. Do your best not to jump in and “correct” the other person. Let them say what they need to say.
- Look for areas of agreement. How can one argue with you if you agree with them? You do not have to agree with all of their points, but make it known where you do agree with them. This will help build rapport.
- Admit to areas of error. Is anything the other person is arguing true? If you are wrong about anything, admit it quickly and emphatically.
- Watch your language. Use words such as “I believe,” “it is my understanding that,” or “I could be wrong, but...” to express your opinion. It is difficult for anyone to argue with your belief.
- Thank the other person. Thank the other person for caring enough to express his or her disagreement. Most people who disagree really do not care enough to make it known. How can one possibly still feel belligerent toward someone who just expressed gratitude for his or her disagreement?
By avoiding arguments, you can avoid getting into potentially explosive situations or avoid saying things you will later regret. Control your emotions and use tact. Do not disagree with others for your own benefit and do your best to avoid arguments by turning them into rational “fact finding” discussions. Do this, and you will build and maintain more successful relationships in your personal and professional life.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)