It's pointless to have brilliant ideas if we can't persuade others of their worth. Persuasive debaters can win arguments by using the force of their reasoning as well as the skillful application of a variety of useful techniques.
So, how do you win a debate? Here are some general dos and don'ts for winning arguments, as well as some sneaky tactics to be aware of.
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Maintain your composure. Even if you become enraged about your point, you must remain calm and in control of your emotions. You lose if you lose your temper.
As evidence for your position, use facts. Facts are difficult to refute, so gather some relevant data before the debate begins. Surveys, statistics, quotes from relevant people, and results can all be used to support your case.
Pose inquiries. You can maintain control of the discussion and make your opponent scramble for answers if you ask the right questions. You can challenge his point by asking questions like, ‘What evidence do you have for that claim?' You can pose hypothetical questions that extrapolate a trend and pose a challenge to your opponent, such as, “What would happen if every nation did that?” Another useful question is one that calmly provokes your opponent, such as, ‘What is it about this that makes you so angry?'
Make use of logic. Demonstrate how one idea leads to another. Make your case and use logic to defeat your opponent.
Make an appeal to higher values. You can use emotion in addition to logic by appealing to worthy motives that are difficult to disagree with, such as, ‘Shouldn't we all be working to make the world a better and safer place for our children?'
Pay close attention. Many people are so preoccupied with what they will say that they ignore their opponent and assume his arguments. It is preferable to pay close attention. You will notice flaws and weaknesses in his position, and you will occasionally hear something new and informative!
Prepare to give up a good point. Don't argue every point just for the sake of arguing. If your opponent makes a valid point, agree but counter with a different argument. This gives you the appearance of being reasonable. ‘I agree that prison does not reform prisoners. That is generally true, but prison continues to be an effective deterrent and punishment.'
Examine your opponent. Understand their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their beliefs and values. You can use their higher values to your advantage. You can take advantage of their flaws by reversing their arguments.
Look for a win-win situation. Be open to a compromise position that incorporates your main points as well as some of your opponent's. In a boxing match, you cannot both win, but you can both win in a negotiation.
Make it personal. Avoid making direct attacks on your opponent's lifestyle, integrity, or honesty. Attack the problem rather than the person. If the other party attacks you, you can take the moral high ground by saying something like, ‘I am surprised at you making personal attacks like that.' I believe it would be better if we focused on the main issue at hand rather than maligning individuals.'
Distract yourself. Your opponent may try to mislead you by introducing new and irrelevant themes. You must maintain your composure. ‘That is a completely separate issue, which I am happy to discuss later. Let us focus on the main issue at hand for the time being.'
Weak arguments are used to dilute your strong ones. If you have three strong points and two weak points, it is probably best to concentrate on the strong ones. Make your case persuasively and request agreement. If you continue to use the weaker arguments, your opponent will be able to rebut them, making your overall case appear weaker.
Some Suspicious Methods to Consider
Use one-liners that are short and to the point. You can sometimes catch your opponent off guard by interjecting a confident, succinct cliché. Here are a few examples:
- That begs the question, doesn't it?
- That isn't the point
- You're defending yourself
- Don't make comparisons between apples and oranges
- What are your constraints?
Make fun of and humiliate your opponent. This can be very effective in front of a crowd, but it will never win over the opponent.
Provoke your opponent on purpose. Find something that irritates them and keep wheedling on it until they lose their temper and the argument.
Distract. Include diversions that will divert the other person's attention away from their main point.
Make your opponent's position appear larger than it is. Extend it far beyond its intended scope, then demonstrate how ridiculous and unreasonable the exaggerated position is.
Confidently contradict. Denounce each of your opponent's arguments as flawed, but only choose one or two to defeat to prove your point. Then proceed as if you have won.
How to Have a Fruitful Debate
Aside from the previously mentioned dos and don'ts, here's an infographic that explains how to have a productive argument at work:
Keep in mind that an argument between two people is not the same as a debate in front of an audience.
In the first, you're trying to persuade the other person, so look for ways to reach an agreement and avoid being combative in your arguments.
In front of an audience, you can use a variety of theatrical and rhetorical devices to strengthen your case and denigrate your opponent.
In these situations, humor can be a very effective tool, so prepare some clever lines ahead of time.
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