How to win any argument

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Okay, okay, maybe not any argument. That would be asking a bit much.

It would also be a physical impossibility. If both of you, the arguer and the arguee, knew the same secret then neither of you could win. Or then again, maybe both of you win. We’ll come back to that later.

But I had to grab your attention, so I slipped the word “any” into the title. Sorry. I hope you don’t mind. This is actually about how to win most arguments.

I’ll make you a deal. If you read to the end of this blog and you think I’ve not delivered on that, then I’ll give you your money back. Plus 50%. How does that sound?

First we’ve got to define what an argument is. I’m going to use two types of argument – marital and internetial. What do you mean, internetial is not a word? It is now. Microsoft Word likes it so much that it keeps on underlining it every time I type it. Which is nice.

I guess that most people who have been married know what a marital argument is. Especially most people who have been married more than once.

A marital argument usually starts small. One or other of you makes a teensy weensy mistake. You might squeeze the toothpaste from the wrong end. Your gaze might linger just a little bit too long on the check-out girl in Tesco. You might have bought a thirty year old classic sports car without adequate spousal consultation. By which we usually mean, without any spousal consultation.

Your partner takes issue with you. You take issue with him or her taking issue with you. It’s not such a big deal.

Of course, it’s a big deal. Don’t you respect my feelings?

Why does this always have to be about your feelings? Don’t I have feelings too?

If you had feelings, you wouldn’t have done what you just did.

Yes, but if you had feelings you wouldn’t have complained about it.

And another thing…

You can tell when an argument is going badly when one of you  says “and another thing”. This is when all the pent up anger and rage comes out. Your mother has never liked me. Three years ago you said or did … How come you never take me out anywhere nice? And, no, MacDonalds doesn’t count. You’re only nice to me when you want something.

If you have too many arguments like that, the lawyers start rubbing their hands in anticipation of being paid and you start nervously trying to work out how much half of not much is going to be worth.

Ug.

When you start an argument you are really hoping for the forehead-slapping moment. You produce a piece of evidence or a line of debate that is so devastating that the party of the other part slaps their hands to their forehead.

“OMG! You were right! I was soooo wrong! I see it now.”

This almost never happens. We desperately want it to happen. We try so hard to make it happen. But it’s a mirage. It’s powdered unicorn horn. Rocking horse poo. It’s the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow that turns out to be … the beginning of another rainbow.

Internetial arguments (it’s that word again) are similar. You are typing away in good faith in your favourite forum. Oh, I don’t know, yakking about politics or split infinitives or whether the Subaru Imprezza is better than the Mitsubishi Evo.

And you write something that is … shall we say? … a little contentious. A bold statement. A tad strong. It’s probably something that you believe in. A pet theory. But, let’s be honest, we don’t think too carefully before posting internetially, do we? If it’s more or less right, we hit the submit button and off it goes into the ether. This is not a job application or that first novel that we spend ages on, refining and polishing until it’s right.

Then someone takes offence. They read your post and their hackles rise … wherever and whatever hackles are. They get into fighty mode. They hit the reply button and start to bash out a devastating response. You are sooo wrong … and they are about to prove it.

Here I must relate a hidden secret about life, the universe and everything. Many internetters secretly like to prove other people wrong. So they patrol the internet like self-styled vigilantes, looking for mistakes to pounce on. Oh, sure, they think that they are being helpful or defending a cause or something like that. But deep down they want to prove someone else wrong because they proves that they are right.

It’s okay. It’s human nature. I do it too. I think many of us do.

Incidentally, this also happens when we drive. Many drivers dearly love to see another driver make a mistake, so that they can switch into high and mighty mode by pointing it out. Look, that plonker didn’t use his indicators! We think we are saying “what a bad driver he is”. What we are really saying is: “What a good driver I am”.

Anyhoo, back to our internetial argument. You make a post, someone else challenges it. But there’s something about the way they challenged it that irks you. When we write, especially on something as fast and throw-away as the internet, it’s so hard to get the tone right. We might think we are being friendly and jokey, but it can come across as sarcastic and petty.

So you defend yourself, incidentally taking a swipe at their argument. And that locks us into a mutual arms race. Mano a mano. Your arguments against his or hers. You give examples plucked from google. They give counter examples, also plucked from google. It starts to get nasty. Insults fly. Neither of you is going to back down. The moderators have to step in before someone gets really hurt.

And of course, what you are hoping for all along is that forehead slapping moment. That wonderful moment of realisation when they say: “OMG! You are right! I see it now.”

Which, as we have already said, almost never happens. And even if it did, it would not be the sweet victory that you are expecting. The other person would be so hurt and damaged that you would feel as if you have stepped on a cute puppy’s paw.

So how can we win an argument? What is the magic secret, known only to a few bald-headed kungfu masters and their disciples?

I will tell you. The only way to win an argument is to be the first to apologise. You see, once you are locked into that downward spiral of violent disagreement, the vortex is going to keep on pulling you down and down. You are both going to get very hurt, until you are either too exhausted to fight any more or someone else stops up.

So you say sorry. A real sorry, not one with sneaky barbs left in. “I am sorry. I said some things that I wish I hadn’t. I didn’t express myself well enough.”

If this works, the other person will now feel guilty. They will know that they have said some silly things too. They are also hoping for a way out of this vicious circle. But you have taken the moral high ground by apologising first. In a large number of cases, they will feel obliged to apologise too.

In effect, you have switched the argument into who can deliver the best apology. And that is a virtuous circle, not a vicious one.

If you are really really lucky, at this point a marital argument could turn into hugs, kisses and a chance to open the dressing up box. That doesn’t happen so much on the internet. At least not in the forums that I frequent.

Here’s a bonus. If the best way to end a marital argument is to be the first to apologise, then the best person to marry is someone who also knows this secret. If you are both trying to be the first to apologise, you can’t have an argument. It simply cannot start.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t get annoyed with each other. That’s healthy. But if she is complaining that you squeeze the toothpaste from the wrong end, the best reaction is probably not to fight it. It may not mean that much to you, but it matters to her. And that ought to be enough.

In the final analysis, the best way to win a marital argument is to see it from the other person’s point of view. And that usually means that you damn well ought to apologise for something.

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