How to Win an Argument

The next time you find yourself bracing for an argument, let it go.


Because persuasion ends the moment arguing begins. All of a sudden, the objective becomes focused on “winning,” and that’s when you’ve already lost.

To prove this point, a group of researchers led by Emory University psychology and psychiatry professor Drew Westen studied functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) of both Democrats and Republicans as they responded to messages from their preferred candidate during the 2004 U.S. presidential election. Specifically, Democrats were shown videos of self-contradictory remarks made by John Kerry, while Republicans were shown self-contradictory remarks from George W. Bush. Both groups of participants tended to dismiss the apparent discrepancies in a manner that demonstrated bias toward their favored candidate.

“Everyone from executives and judges to scientists and politicians may reason to emotionally biased judgments when they have a vested interest in how to interpret ‘the facts,’” Westen told after his research was presented in 2006.

When your persuasion attempts reach that point, logic and reason flee your target. Whatever you say after that point of no return will be moot, unless you can steer the conversation back to a rational and legitimate discussion.

So how do you win an argument? Don’t let one start.

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