How to win an argument

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Ever wondered how some people rarely get into arguments, yet when they do they always seem to win? Or does it baffle you why others are so unflappable, even the most annoying thing fails to make them irritable?

From relationship rows to office spates and beyond, how should we structure and direct our disputes so that we walk away from them feeling as though we have won?

Stylist caught up with the psychiatrist and author, Dr. Julian Short, to find out. With over 30 years of experience in counselling, self-help and managing low self-esteem, Dr. Short is adept in resolving arguments and analysing how we should handle them in our day-to-day lives. Here are some of his tips for avoiding those disputes and winning them when you don't...

1. Being gentle is being powerful

"Shouting betrays that you are weak and small," says Dr. Short.

If you listen to the person - or at least make it look as though you are listening - then you are far more likely to win. Never interrupt when someone is speaking, but look at them and wait for your chance to articulate your point. "The less invasive you are, the more potent you are," he says, and if you speak gently and don't raise your voice, you will be heard.

2. Don't invade someone's territory

We're pretty primitive beasts it seems, at least when it comes to arguing. It's all about territory according to Dr. Short, and if you can acknowledge someone's territory without invading it, then you will probably get what you want.

He uses a basic example involving a skirt to illustrate the point. "If you have insulted a woman's skirt choice, then it is all about acknowledging their territory and using the right language," he says. "Use 'I' to begin with, and then a soft verb like 'feel' or 'believe'. Follow this with more non-aggressive language, and if you can validate anything that the other person is saying, by saying 'I recognise that you're angry...' for example, then that is very good."

Take a step back from the situation in question and do not say anything intrusive like "you shouldn't have said that either" - it makes people feel harangued and only enrages them further.

3. Keep your dignity and admit when you're wrong

In fact, according to Dr Short, we don't often win arguments per se - "keeping your dignity is much more important" when it comes to being the victor in a fight. "Being wrong is not being a fool," he argues. Often the people who can accept that they are in the wrong and concede that to the person they are fighting are the people who will win the most arguments. One of the most important things to everyone is to be liked, and we like other people who admit their shortcomings.

4. Don't be too sensitive

According to Dr. Short there are two common roots for our anger and these divide along gender lines. "If you are really really mad with someone, it's likely to be because you've either been put down or rejected," he says. "The rejection complex is more common among women, it's the 'she didn't invite me to a party, now I'm angry' example. With men, the put down complex is more commonplace. If a man laughs at another man because he is struggling with a hammer and a nail bends, then that man will potentially become aggressive and smash the hammer."

The people who win these arguments, or indeed who avoid these petty fights altogether, are the ones with a high rejection sensitivity threshold. Fundamentally, we care about love and belongings - when people put us down or reject us, it can pay not to be too sensitive.

5. Treat people with good intentions rather than retaliating

If you treat someone nicely even when they are "firing arrows" at you, then eventually they will run out of steam. Dr. Short tells his patients this and draws a grid when he speaks to people on a one-to-one basis. "You can never know someone else's agenda," he says, and if someone is shooting a lot of aggression in your direction, then it is far better to nullify it by not directly responding.

Dr. Julian Short's new book, How to Win an Argument, Even When You Lose (HarperPress) is available now in the UK. Click here to buy it.

Words and interview: Sophie Haslett. Picture Credit: LightBrigade PR.


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Stylist Team