How to win an argument at work - or stop one before it starts


No one expects to navigate the work world without the occasional argument. And it's nice to "win" when you're in the right.

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But what really matters more than besting your manager or co-workers in an argument is how you handle the conflicts that are an inevitable part of work, according to a Forbes piece co-written by Travis Bradberry and Joseph Grenny.

"A persistent finding in both of our research is that your ability to handle moments of conflict has a massive impact on your success," they said. "How you handle conflict determines the amount of trust, respect and connection you have with your colleagues."

Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne gave tips for winning arguments in any setting in Psychology Today, borrowing ideas from Israeli psychologist Eran Halperin about political conflict and interpreting them on a personal, rather than global, level.

"In an argument, your appraisal that you're losing, your belief that you need to be 'right' and the extent to which you like the other person can all have an impact on the emotions you experience," she wrote. "Your emotions can also get aroused by the desire to gain the respect of onlookers - no one enjoys being made to look ignorant in front of others, and when you feel that you're being made the fool, your outrage only increases."

Anger pretty much kills your ability to win an argument in any sense of the word "win," Whitbourne said. Instead of building to an outraged furor, she recommended six key, argument-winning tools:

Know your facts

Whitbourne reminded people of all the times they made a claim about a bit of trivia, quickly realized they were wrong, and then stuck to their guns anyhow. "This is not an ideal way to win (or enter) an argument." Stop and think before you make a blooper and you'll be less likely to lose an argument, whether it's trivial or actually important to your career.

Prepare to acknowledge the other person's point of view

You don't have to agree with your foe, but if you want to win the argument, "you do need to be able to see the world the way your opponent does. Stepping into the mental set of those you argue with allows you to figure out what's influencing them. Perhaps they're feeling threatened, anxious, or annoyed. Perhaps they know something that you don't. In any case, showing empathy will lower the temperature of the debate."

Try to be, or at least seem, open-minded

"Becoming defensive is one of the worst ways to win an argument. Don't let your opponent sense that you're digging into your position without being willing to consider alternatives. And if you let your opponent speak, he might come to your side without your having to do anything other than listen."

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Keep your emotions in check

Halperin's research revealed how important emotions are in determining your ability to appraise situations. "If you lose your temper, you'll only antagonize your opponent, which will further heighten his or her wrath, and the process can only escalate upwards," Whitbourne explained. Worried that you'll seem weak if you suddenly become calm in the middle of the argument? Don't worry. You'll gain points by showing self-control.

Stay hopeful that the argument can be resolved

Arguments can stir up negative emotions. If you're in the midst of a screaming fest, it's tough to envision a resolution where you still have your dignity intact. But strive to stay optimistic. "Invoking the feeling of hope allows you to think more clearly, leading to the possibility that you'll win by sheer force of logic." If you believe there's a way out, you're more likely to find one. "This is what happens in ordinary problem-solving, when thinking outside of the box can help all sides come up with a solution. Such an 'aha' moment in an argument can lead you straight to victory."

Respect your opponent

You may not emerge as the clear victor in an argument, or you may get your way but make your business relationship worse. It's important not to insult or degrade your opponent during the conflict. "Even if the individual is someone you'll never see again, it's still important to show that you meant 'nothing personal' in the dispute."


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