Wander Woman

Guidance for the goal-driven woman

How to Win an Argument

4 tips for being heard when you disagree

No matter how right you think you are, the person you want to convince may never hear your points and logic.

When you disagree with someone, they have to want to hear your point of view. There are four things you need to do for people to be open to hear you: 1) set an emotion-based intention, 2) trust their intent, 3) hold the person in positive regard, and 4) manage your reactions. 

1) Set a positive emotion-based intention

To build trust, the person must “feel” your intentions are in their best interest throughout the conversation and beyond. Your needs and emotions will impact the conversation even if you have been trained to put on a poker face. As soon as you shift your attention to wanting them to learn something or change for your satisfaction instead of theirs, they will feel pushed. They will either become defensive or shut down instead of open up. At that point, if they let you win the argument, it’s not real. You just get the last word in.

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Even if a broader goal will be met, you must have an emotional intention focused on being of service to the person or to your relationship. This intention will help to open the person a real conversation about why you both feel so strongly about your perspectives and not just a volley of opinions and insults. They have to feel that the outcome will help them before they will help you.

Remember how much you care about the person and your relationship. Remind yourself that you care about the person and value your relationship before you respond to their words. Allow them to disagree without losing your desire to be of service or to strengthen your bond.

2) Trust their intent

Even if the person disagrees with you or you are angry because they hurt your feelings, assume they did not intend to hurt you or make a mistake. When we assume that the other person was doing what they thought was right at the time, you can feel compassion and patience. When you accept their reasoning is valid from their point of view, you  are better able to see what might not have been apparent to them before. This gives you the opportunity to share what would work better for you both moving forward.

3) Hold the person in positive regard 

An open conversation requires a feeling of mutual respect. They will not hear you if you “know better” and talk as if they are ignorant. Even if you disagree with their perspective, honor them anyway, knowing they are doing their best to survive and succeed with what they know. Hopefully, you can help them realize what else they can know. 

4) Manage your reactions

You need to move your attention into the present moment so you can observe your own thoughts and reactions. If you go into the conversation feeling calm and centered, you are able to watch yourself react to others.

Notice when you begin to feel irritated and want to defend your point of view. Release your breath and the tension will subside. When you do respond, you will be better able to relate your argument to their perspective.

Notice the urge to interrupt or even insult the person. Return to your feeling of positive regard. Does the person’s aggressiveness make you feel like giving up? Recall the positive intention you had for the conversation in the first place. Restate your intention before you respond to the person. 

Over time, you will notice your normal patterns of behavior in arguments. Practice observing and you will better master your reactions. 

However, if you aren’t “here now,” you will not sense a person’s fear until they have already retreated.

If you are calm, comfortable and present to the other person, you are in a position to recognize the emotions driving their choices. You will notice when they hesitate or withdraw. You will see opportunities to acknowledge their ideas and encourage exploration. 

You may also notice how you react to their resistance. You may notice your impatience or urge to fill in the silence. Relax, allowing time for the person to relax as well. Choose to feel compassion before you respond.

Find a routine that works for you to quickly relax your body and mind. While in conversation, notice if any part of your body tenses up or your brain has critical thoughts. Release the tension. Clear your mind. Breathe into your belly. 

When you are fully present, you are better able to maintain composure if tensions rise. Then you can appropriately adapt your approach without giving up on your intention 

Once you are able to manager yourself in your argument, you are better able to hear what the other person has to say. Then you can accept their point of view and ask them if they are willing to consider a different perspective. If they are open to hear you, they may come to accept your logic. At least, you can respect each other’s opinions even if you agree to disagree. By saving the relationship, you win.

Marcia Reynolds, PsyD., is the author of two leadership books, The Discomfort Zone and Wander Woman. She is President of Covisioning, a leadership development and coaching firm.

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