How to Win an Argument (3 Step Guide)

Everlast boxing gloves on a white background before a fight.

Kiss the boxing gloves goodbye. No one has to lose for you to win.

We have all been in an argument that is going nowhere. You believe you are right. She believes she is right. And no matter how much you talk to each other, it seems like there is not end in sight. Sound familiar? I bet it does given that you are here to learn how to win an argument. I am going to arm you with the knowledge to do that, but I am also going to help you keep the discussion productive.

We are going to cover how to have a productive argument. I'm going to share with you the five critical components of a productive discussion I have discovered through trial and error.

I want to start with an example everyone can relate to.

Your girlfriend (or boyfriend) is always late. But you are a structured, conscientious person who likes to be on time. You want to change her behavior and make her aware of how her carelessness makes you feel. Perhaps you brought up your feelings before. You probably said something along the lines of, “Oh you're late again…it would be nice if you would come on time.” More than likely you were passive-aggressive.

1. Clarify the Issue that Caused the Problem

A pair of glasses that improve clarity.

For the sake of discussion, pretend that your girlfriend did not pick up on the hints you have been dropping.  The first thing you want to do is clarify to yourself why her behavior upsets you. This is important because you will not be able to address the issue with her if you are not 100% certain what the problem is, and why it hurts you.

Given our example, we could say something like, “I want my girlfriend to be reliable. I'm tired of her letting me down after she makes commitments that I depend on.” Ask yourself if that is the root cause of your frustration. Often, the ostensible issue is not the real problem. Make sure you know with 100% certainty what is bothering you.

2. Figure Out What Needs to Change

Next you want to clarify the behaviors you want to discourage. You probably do not want to have a useless and heated conversation that fails to inspire change. Clarify what you want and what you hope to avoid; this clarity will allow your brain to focus on the desired outcome. And it will reduce the chance that you get sidetracked by unproductive argumentation, which is common pothole in these types of discussions.

Learning how to win an argument is really about learning to make changes instead of venting frustration.

3. Determine How You Can Be Productive and Avoid Being Hurtful

A pink broken heart hanging from a string in front of a black background.

Now you should ask yourself the following question: How can I have a candid and productive conversation? In our example, you want to direct your focus toward how you might encourage your girlfriend to be more dependable. You should desperately want to avoid creating bad feelings because that will waste both parties time.

To the end of avoiding bad feelings, make sure you establish a safe talking environment. You do not want the other person to feel attacked or judged for his/her behavior.

This is a skill that I have personally struggled to develop. I can be very intense, and people occasionally interpret my intensity as anger. Over time, I have learned how to guarantee the other person does not feel attacked as I speak my mind.

The Power of Contrasting Statements

You should frequently use contrasting statements. For example, you would say something along the lines of, “Please do not think I am trying to make you out to be a bad person who does not care about my feelings or my time. I know that you care about me and my time. I feel that it is important for you to be on time when we organize a date. Can you accommodate me?”

When you offer your faith and goodwill while you offer your suggestion, you communicate that the other person is in a safe environment and you are simply letting him/her know your feelings. At no point did you put him/her down.

Punctuality is a mild issue, and I bet you are thinking that a more contentious, sensitive problem might offer a better visualization.

Try on this hypothetical: you are not happy with your sex life with your husband. How would we bring this up in a productive way?

What do I want out of the conversation?

Lights that say "focus" in front of a blurry background.

You need to start with the issue as you see it. Ask yourself, “what do I want out of the conversation.”  Say you want your husband to understand your intimacy requirements. You are tired of him ignoring you whenever you try to make a move. When you bring up that you are dissatisfied, make sure he understands that the issue is important and that it is hurting you.

What do you not want?

Next, focus on what you do not want. How can you have a calm conversation with my husband about our physical intimacy, and avoid creating pressure, resentment, or bad feelings towards you or the relationship?

How can you avoid being hurtful?

If you are reading this article, I would bet that you are in the middle of some sort of argument. Take a moment to think about how you would bring the issue up. Write it down and consider how you would feel if someone approached you that way. If you make the effort to do this, you will discover that it is not easy to avoid being hurtful. Now think about all the times you rushed into an argument without being careful. Do you understand why they always go bad?

But this is what I would say: “Hey honey, I would like to share some of my concerns over our physical intimacy. I am not saying this to put you on the spot or hurt your feelings, but this is important to me, I love you, and I need to share it with you. I think if we talk about it, we can make our life together better.”

A piece of paper that says "kindness is magic."

There is a lot going on in this message. Notice that I did not blame her for anything. I also phrased my message in such a way that let her know that I wanted to be constructive and work for a goal both of us want.

“I would like to share some of my concerns over our physical intimacy.”

I am not cornering her and demanding we talk at that moment. But the last line is the most important:

“…we can make our life together better.”

It is critical that you establish a common goal where both parties benefit from a resolution to the problem you would like to discuss. You also need to make sure the other person understands clearly what the problem is, why it hurts you, and how improving on the issue will be good for him/her. If you learn to talk to people while keeping those factors in mind, you have turned a potential argument into a helpful discussion.

Always remember that you are talking about how to make that relationship better, which is something everyone involved should want.

By changing the dynamic of the discussion from me versus you to how we can work together as a team, you open up the conversation to all sorts of opportunities.

Let’s take a quick review of the five major points.

  1. Clarify to yourself what you want.

  2. Make sure you know what you don't want.

  3. Ask yourself how you can bring up the subject without hurting anyone.

  4. Create a safe talking environment.

  5. Establish a shared goal.

If you do not follow these five suggestions, you will have a difficult time having a productive argument. So, keep them in mind!

Now you know how to win an argument. Good luck!