"Don't raise your voice, improve your argument" is a mantra adopted by Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, who has had to deal with a fair deal of dischord during his career as a South African social rights activist.
Of course, we all know that being able to argue well is a life skill.
If you get it right, it can even be an art form; something to be relished as you calmly use your powers of persuasion to score point after point, and build a reputation as the go-to person for conflict resolution.
But get it wrong and you risk being humiliated and may easily end up spreading antipathy rather than quelling it.
Red-faced rages, shouting and tears are never a good look and undermine your sense of professionalism and self-worth.
So whether you're locked in a dispute with a family member or need to get your point across at work, here are ten expert tactics to argue with tact, finesse and rigour - with not one glimmer of a Gordon Ramsay-esque tantrum:
Be strategic and do your homework
"Before starting an argument think carefully about what it is you are arguing about and what it is you want," says Jonathan Herring, lawyer and author of How To Argue. "This may sound obvious. But it's critically important. 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. If it's not realistic or obtainable, then a verbal battle might damage a valuable relationship."
"Start by listening to what the other person has to say and make sure you acknowledge their point of view," says life coach Gladeana McMahon. "You don’t have to agree with what they are saying but you do need to show you’ve got the message. For example 'from your point of view I can see you might feel let down' or 'I get the feeling you think I’m not being supportive' or 'I know this is a full on time for our department and you’ve a lot to think about'. If you don’t actively show that you have listened the other person will assume you haven’t and will either walk away or withdraw because they will think you’re not taking them seriously. Alternatively, they may increase the intensity of their argument and the volume of their voice in an attempt to make you listen."
Be open-minded, or at least appear that way
"Becoming defensive is one of the worst ways to win an argument," says psychology professor Susan Krauss Whitbourne. "Don’t let your opponent sense that you’re digging into your position without being willing to consider alternatives. If you appear to be giving the other side’s position a thoughtful review, then the solution you propose will seem to be far more sensible. Furthermore, your opponent may come to your side without your having to do anything other than listen. By letting your opponent speak, you may allow the situation to naturally resolve itself."
Trust the other person's 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," says leadership author Marcia Reynolds. "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."
Get comfortable with awkward silences
"When it comes to the art of negotiation, I’ve learned a simple truth: Never speak first," says Stephen Key, author of the One Simple Idea series. "After I explicitly state what it is I want, I clam up. When we’re uncomfortable with an awkward silence, it’s tempting to fill it quickly, but if you do, you might end up saying something without thinking it through. I’ve discovered that the first person to speak usually loses the argument. So make your point, be confident and force yourself to wait for a response."
Don't get emotional - take your time
"Exploders might win arguments by sheer brute force but that doesn't last," says clinical psychologist Linda Blair. "Only logic lasts, and to be logical you need to be in control of your emotions. "If you can't wait a minute longer to speak, wait an hour. Don't argue when you're feeling emotional. Wait until the urge to explode has passed, then talk about it.
"When an argument is brewing, go to the bathroom and look in the mirror. Ask yourself what you are feeling. Say the words: 'I feel,' and see what comes out. It sounds silly but it's a very powerful way to reconnect.
If your opponent is getting emotional, "Say, 'I can see this is important to you and we have to talk about it, but let's do so when you're calmer. I can't talk to you when you're angry.'"
Disagree clearly, using specific examples
"Make your position known as soon as you reasonably can," says productivity coach Laura Stack. "Be simple, to the point, and specific about your concerns. [In a work situation] If a new process someone has mandated won’t work, tell that person why, and back it up. Don’t dispute an argument in general terms; always use specific examples to refute it - and do so in a way that doesn’t cause the other person to lose face."
Attack the problem, not the person
"Your points will be heard more clearly if you can depersonalize your comments and point only at the issue," says conflict mediator Lee Jay Berman. "Rather than accusing people of 'always messing things up,' it is better to say, "We'll have to take a closer look at why this keeps happening," In most statements that we make in a dispute, we are fighting with our own anger and are tempted to put a zinger into the point we are trying to get across. You will be heard better and improve your chances of resolving the issue the way you want if you can catch yourself and take the zinger out."
Bombard your opponent with questions
"If you can ask the right questions you can stay in control of the discussion and make your opponent scramble for answers," says author and public speaker Paul Sloane. "You can ask questions that challenge his point, 'What evidence do you have for that claim?' You can ask hypothetical questions that extrapolate a trend and give your opponent a difficulty, 'What would happen if every nation did that?' Another useful type of question is one that calmly provokes your foe, 'What is about this that makes you so angry?'"
Use body language to disarm your opponent
"Mirror your adversary," advises US-based communications expert Nick Morgan. "Mirroring builds agreement; you can often head off potential trouble by establishing a strong basis of nonverbal agreement before the real negotiating begins. But you mustn’t be obvious. The idea is simple enough: When the other party adopts a certain seated or standing position, try to adopt a similar one yourself. You want to move slowly until you more or less match the other person’s stance.
"The idea is to take some time standing or sitting in roughly the same position as the other person. That will send an unconscious message to the person that you are on an equal level and generally in agreement with them. They will begin to trust you. But remember not to be obvious about it."
Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Getty Images