How to win an argument

The art of persuasion is a valuable skill to have. You’re going to need it in every area of your life from personal relationships to advancing your career. Knowing how to win an argument is more than using intimidation.

How many declare victory in an argument. (Credit: LOLhome.com)

How many declare victory in an argument. (Credit: LOLhome.com)

You have to frame a valid argument, present a clear case and avoid logical fallacies that erode your credibility. Arguments that have validity are those that are logically sound and stick to the point. How can you be persuasive and win every argument?

The art of persuasion

Do your professors lecture you on the virtues of critical thinking? It’s one of those buzz terms that professors are so fond of. But in this case they’re right. Your ability to create a valid argument is a reflection of your critical thinking skills.

Arguing with someone doesn’t mean that you’re angry with them. Not always anyway. Often the argument is about a difference of opinion rather than fact. You’re attempting to persuade someone to come over to your point of view. Persuasion requires that you find something that you can both agree on  some common ground between the two of you.

According to Steven Novella, arguments tend to follow the same structure. In his November 19, 2009, article for TheNess.com, “How to Argue,” Novella laid out the sequence of a typical argument.

  • first premise: If A = B
  • second premise: and B = C
  • logical conclusion: then A = C

“A valid argument is one in which, if the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true. However, if one or more premise is false then a valid logical argument may still lead to a false conclusion. A sound argument is one in which the logic is valid and the premises are true, in which case the conclusion must be true,” Novella explained.

In order for an argument to be valid, then all of its premises must be true. An argument is not sound if any of the premises used to defend it turn out to be wrong.

Another error often made in creating an argument is to use a premise that has not been proven to be true because there is not enough evidence to support it. Novella advised that one way to deal with this problem is to use a hypothetical example. You would state your case by saying, “Let’s assume for the sake of argument that….”

How to win an argument

Eric Barker provided more insight to creating arguments in his May 24, 2014, article for Time.com, “How to Win Every Argument.”

According to Barker, when the argument begins then persuasion stops. That’s because when we encounter a point of view at odds with our own, receptors in the brain go into a fight mode and reasoning stops. No one cares who is right. The goal is to win at all costs. You may win the argument but in the process you’ve created an enemy.

Losing an argument isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you. You might actually learn something.

“Winning an argument is a short term ego victory. Losing an argument can be a learning experience that benefits you the rest of your life,” Barker said.

Barker advised that the first step to winning an argument is to stop trying so hard to win.

Logical fallacies

The arguments that you present when making your case must be true in order for your argument to be valid. Arguments that are false prove nothing. These types of arguments are called logical fallacies. You should avoid using these types of premises in your arguments.

The University of Texas at El Paso presented a “Master List of Logical Fallacies” along with explanations of each one.

The list of logical fallacies included:

  • Ad Hominem argument: trying to make your case by attacking the other person rather than using facts
  • Appeal to closure: assuming that your premise must be accepted no matter how questionable it may be
  • Appeal to heaven: stating that God has declared this to be true so no further justification is needed
  • Appeal to tradition: stating that a position is right because it has always been this way

“Fallacies often seem superficially sound, and far too often have immense persuasive power, even after being clearly exposed as false. Fallacies are not always deliberate, but a good scholar’s purpose is always to identify and unmask fallacies in arguments,” the writer said.

To learn more about argument and the art of persuasion, check out the Rhetoric Society of America at RhetoricSociety.org.

What are your experiences with winning an argument? Tell us in the comments.

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