8 April 2020
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Listen up and let me argue that this is the way to win arguments!

In case you haven’t noticed, my Weekend Switzer pieces are not only designed to help you but also me!

It’s my disciplined approach to making sure I’m committed to self-improvement.

And today’s story comes out of the observation from a mate who, like me, is a ‘young’ grandparent. He wondered why he never argues with his grandkids and loved the way he gets along with them so well.

His conclusion is that we are at one with our grandkids because we have a common enemy!

An occupational hazard of being a parent is that you often find you get sucked into an argument. It’s made more challenging when you have a family business.

When our sons were young they were always unnerved when Maureen and I had a disagreement but we explained that “it isn’t an argument, it’s a discussion on an important issue.”

When our encounter heated up, my sons would ask: “Is this an argument and are you going to get a divorce?” That surprising outcome served to calm us down and we’d try to engage in a higher-level discussion!

Over the years, I came to realise that I needed some help when it comes to arguing about something important so I thought I’d look for some expert help.

A UK keynote speaker, Paul Sloane, offered me some great processes to lift my arguing technique.
Here are the things you must do:

  • Stay calm.
  • Use facts as evidence for your position.
  • Ask questions.
  • Use logic.
  • Appeal to higher values such as: ‘Shouldn’t we all be working to make the world better and safer for our children?’
  • Listen carefully to observe weaknesses and flaws.
  • Be prepared to concede a good point.
  • Study your opponent. Know their strengths, weaknesses, beliefs and values.
  • Look for a win-win. “You cannot both win in a boxing match but you can both win in a negotiation,” Sloane wisely observes.

And here’s what you avoid:

  • Don’t get personal — attack the issue not the person and if the other party attacks you then you can take the high ground e.g. “I am surprised at you making personal attacks like that. I think it would be better if we stuck to the main issue here rather than maligning people.”
  • Don’t get distracted — stick to the topic
  • Don’t water down your strong arguments with weak ones. If you have three strong points and two weaker ones then it is probably best to just focus on the strong.

“Remember that an argument between two people is very different from a debate in front of an audience,” Sloane argues. “In the first you are trying to win over the other person, so look for ways of building consensus and do not be belligerent in making your points.

“In front of an audience you can use all sorts of theatrical and rhetorical devices to bolster your case and belittle your adversary.”

Clearly, better arguing means improving your processes but there’s some psychology in persuading someone to see your point of view.

The website www.changingminds.org looks at 10 ways to better influence others to your way of thinking or if you like, converting them to your position on a subject.

This is what the mind experts advise:

  1. Use Amplification — when you express with certainty it has greater impact on the listener and vice versa.
  2. Try Conversion theory, which says a strong minority voice can often win over a majority in a group because that majority is made up of many who wanted to be in the winning group and are more likely to be followers.
  3. Information manipulation works, where the persuader breaks the rules on keeping it simple, using info that’s not really relevant, playing loose with facts and not giving the complete picture. This sneaky approach can win a lot of people over but I don’t endorse it unless the means justifies the ends!
  4. Priming can be used to make people arrive at a decision which you have planted in their mind by using words that a court of law might say is: “leading the witness.”
  5. Reciprocity is a social norm that sets up an obligation that makes someone think they need to return a favour. It’s like planting the argument that “I went along with you on this so you owe me” without actually saying it.
  6. The scarcity principle can be influential. “You want what is in short supply,” Kevan Lee of Fast Company writes on the subject. “This desire increases as you anticipate the regret you might have if you miss out by not acting fast enough.”
  7. The Sleeper Effect and this one will shock you but you will see it. “Persuasive messages tend to decrease in persuasiveness over time, except messages from low-credibility sources,” Lee explains. “Messages that start out with low persuasion actually gain persuasion as our minds slowly disassociate the source from the material.” For example, a presumably sleazy car salesman and his advice on what car is best. Sometimes I think we often want the advice from a salesman to be right especially when you like the look of something and the price!
  8. Social Influence and influencers prove this all the time. If you like the influencer, you then don’t rigorously question their arguments. Big brands and commentators use this to great effect every day in our lives.
  9. The Yale Attitude Change Approach is worth considering. Yale University found a number of factors, including persuasive speech, being very credible and being an attractive speaker can have a big impact on how persuasive you are and whether your argument will prevail in a head-to-head battle with someone with a different view.
  10. Ultimate terms underline the power of words. Research shows that certain words carry more power than others. Believe it or not but there are ‘God terms’ that carry blessings or demand obedience/sacrifice, such as progress or value. Then there are ‘Devil terms’ those terms that are despised and evoke disgust such as fascist, murderer, bankruptcy, etc. And then there are ‘Charismatic terms’ like freedom and contribution.

Lee tells us that research says the five most persuasive words in the English language and undoubtedly are used by advertising outfits are:

  • You
  • Because
  • Free
  • Instantly, and
  • New.

So next time you’re trying to win an argument or trying to convince someone to see it your way, maybe you could use something like this:

Because I’ve Instantly liked You, I’m giving You this New insightful story for Free!”

Whatever, the point is clear, that if you want to become more persuasive and influential, you need to do a bit of work on lifting your game. I know this helps me – not that I’m winning any more arguments though with a certain someone!

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