How To Turn Arguments / Disputes In Your Favor

Disagreements are a natural part of the human condition.  Try as we might, it is not something that we can avoid.  I have found that in many business settings we try to sweep disagreements under the rug… they are avoided at all costs or they manifest themselves in passive aggressive behavior.  I do not think this is helpful to anyone because the underlying issues causing the dispute is not being addressed. But according to Jessica Stillman, there is a way to turn this negative phenomenon into something positive.

Now, confession time! Naturally, I am a very hot-tempered person.  My visceral tendency when in any kind of argument is to do or say whatever it takes to win.  Seriously, it could be something as benign as someone disagreeing with a proposal I made in a meeting.  But, because I am aware of this character flaw, I am always mindful of my actions in these settings.  I don’t just give in to my instinctive reaction / feeling.  So, regardless of whether or not you run hot or cold, if I can take the time and make rational choices in these heated settings, then so can you!

So, here is Stillman, highlighting 5 of the tips Jonathan Herring, (a University of Oxford lawyer) discussed in his book, How to Argue:

1.    Come prepared.  It seems that this is always the first step when it comes to improving your communication skills.  Per Herring, the questions you should ask yourself are:

“What do you really want from this argument? Do you want the other person to just understand your point of view? Or are you seeking a tangible result? If it's a tangible result, you must ask yourself whether this result you have in mind is realistic and whether it's obtainable.”

2.    Craft your argument.  When implementing this tip you have to put your feelings on the backburner.  You have to be rational when crafting your arguments, choice of words, choosing your body language and other forms of non-verbal communication.

3.    Plan your counterpoints.  Whether we want to admit them or not, all of us have blind spots, preconceived notions, and emotionally touchy areas.”  If you work with someone long enough, you might be aware of these things about the individual.  So, try to avoid issues that this person might find offensive while focus on things that (s)he might be more amenable to. If you are not familiar with the person, then avoid anything that might trigger a strong emotional response in most people (religion, politics, past failure, etc.).

4.    Beware crafty tricks.  According to Stillman, Herring warns:
 "Arguments are not always as good as they first appear. Be wary of your opponent's use of statistics. Keep alert for distraction techniques such as personal attacks and red herrings. Look out for concealed questions and false choices."  

I see this in daily life.  Always look at the details about any “study” you are cited.  Also, look to see if people are simply using techniques like mirroring or deflecting to appear empathetic  while failing to address  the underlying issues causing your dispute.

5.    Be creative to resolve deadlock. According to Herring:

"Be creative in finding ways out of an argument that's going nowhere,…Is it time to look at the issue from another angle? Are there ways of putting pressure on so that the other person has to agree with you? Is a compromise possible?" 

I believe that one of the best ways to come up with creative solutions is to use active listening to get behind the other person’s positions (i.e. what they say they want ) to find out their interests (i.e. what they really need).  In a prior blog post, I showed you how one negotiator was able to carve out a creative solution with the infamously intransigent Steve Jobs.

It will take some time for you to fully master this technique.  But I know for a fact that it can be done.  Good luck!

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Posted on October 23, 2014 and filed under Contracts and Negotiation.