How To Improve Your Arguing Skills, According To Science

It's a great life skill.

The term "argue" is pretty ugly. 

When most people think of arguing, it probably pulls up mental images of yelling in someone's face, calling names, and being disrespectful. This is reinforced by reality television, where even the slightest disagreement can melt down into pure pandemonium. Modern politicians turn simple discussions into ideological screaming matches, refusing to give an inch to the other side.

The truth is, however, that arguing is necessary as people discuss complex ideas and opinions. 

Some arguments are important, such as interpreting the Constitution or figuring out a custody arrangement. Others aren't, such as choosing what color to paint the living room or where to go for dinner.

Whether the argument is big or small, there are some basic guidelines to keeping it classy and making sure that it's a productive conversation, not just a shouting match. 

Here are five tips to improving how to argue:


1. Listen.

Too often during a discussion, people get so worked up waiting for their turn to speak that they forget to listen to what the other person has to say. Listen to the other person and find out why they think the way they do. 

Listening to the other person is important for a few reasons, but it primarily gives insight into what the other person truly thinks and why they think it. By truly understanding where their concerns are coming from, it will frame the rest of the discussion in a helpful way.

Actually listening to the other person may also reveal misconceptions they have about your point of view. When it's your turn to talk again, these can be cleared up so they know what you actually think.

2. Don't create a straw man.

A straw man argument is one where someone describes a false and highly distorted scenario they say is held by their opponent, only to tear it down. While it may make them feel like have the upper hand in the debate, all they did was shoot down an idea that their opponent never expressed in the first place.

Here's an example:

Man A: "Teen STDs in this area are rising. Instead of teaching abstinence-only sex ed that doesn't work, we should be teaching them the options of how to stay safe and protected."

Man B: "You just want to hand out free condoms and encourage teens to have sex behind their parents' backs, and pick on the kids who are choosing to wait until marriage!"

Obviously, what Man A actually said has nothing to do with what Man B accused him of wanting. When Man B jumps to such a drastic and distorted conclusion, it takes away from the conversation and issues that are actually at hand. 

Don't build a straw man. Stay on topic and don't put words into the other person's mouth. This ties back to needing to listen to the other person to find out what their position actually is.

3. Be respectful.

In some arguments, particularly those of a personal nature, emotions can run high. This is perfectly normal, but showing respect to the other person is incredibly important.

If your feelings are hurt by the other person, don't call names or say something to hurt them back. If their feelings are hurt, apologize and try to minimize the damage while keeping the dialogue going. Don't be patronizing, be thoughtful.

This doesn't mean completely avoiding a topic if it is emotional, but it does need to be handled with tact and consideration. The more respect you show to the other person, the more likely they will be respectful as well, keeping the conversation civil and on track.

4. Finish later, if needed.

While the old adage says "never go to bed angry," there's something to be said for stepping away from an argument and coming back to it later when cooler heads will prevail. If the situation is important, taking a few days to properly mull things over can be for the best.

Not only does this allow for a needed break from any high emotions that may be flying, but it also gives both parties the opportunity to think about what has been discussed so far. 

Taking a break can give you a chance to do some reading to help answer a question the other person may have had, as well as look up things they had brought up that you hadn't considered. When the argument is resumed, you'll have a better understanding of the other person's opinions as well as a better handle on your own.

5. Admit when you're wrong

Arguing well does not always mean that you will come out on top and the other person will see your side. Arguing well means conducting yourself with dignity and honoring the process of expressing different opinions with decorum. Sometimes, even if you argue well, you're still wrong.

If the other person proves you wrong on a topic, admit it. There's no shame in being wrong, but there is shame in stubbornly holding on to false ideals. 

"I hadn't considered things that way before. I guess what I thought was wrong. Thanks for setting me straight on that!"

Of course, the most important part of being in an argument is knowing your position is sound.

If admitting when you are wrong seems like the worst thing in the world, the best advice is to be wrong as little as possible. This means basing an argument on facts, logic, and stone-cold reasoning. 

While primal needs and emotional concerns are certainly present in an argument, logic must be at the center, or else it is a waste of time. 

Crash Course host Hank Green explains the science of what factors are involved in an argument and how to make sure that logic is at the forefront, making your position the best it can possibly be. Check it out:

Cover image: Shutterstock


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