Science says these seven tactics will help you win any argument

After a highly controversial election, you’re likely to come in contact with someone you don’t share the same views with.

It’s easy for these calm discussions to turn ugly. If they involve family members, it can make the holidays especially stressful.

These are the most successful tactics to help you get your point across in a courteous and educated way.

Don’t try to win

​Attacking someone’s ideas puts them into fight-or-flight mode. Once they’re on edge, there will be no getting through to them.

So if you want to be convincing, practice “extreme agreement” — take your conversational partner’s views and advance them to their logical, and perhaps absurd, conclusion.

Be civil

Contrary to what your debate coach said, arguments aren’t rational.

So respect the other person’s perspective, no matter how ridiculous it sounds.

“When people have their self-worth validated in some way, they tend to be more receptive to information that challenges their beliefs,” Peter Ditto, a psychology professor at the University of California at Irvine, told New York magazine in 2014.

With that emotional connection established, you can then start getting logical.

Ask open-ended questions

If you’re in a spat with your spouse, John Gottman, a psychologist who works with couples, says to ask questions that allow them to open up.

Examples include:

  • How would you change it if you had all the money in the world?
  • What do you want your life to be like in three years?
  • How do you like your job?

It can help in arguments at work, too — open-ended questions help transform competitive interactions into cooperative ones.

Be confident

People don’t listen to the smartest person in the room.

A 2013 study found that they listen to the people who act as if they know what is right.

Bryan Bonner, a professor of management at the University of Utah, says people unconsciously look for “messy proxies for expertise” such as extroversion, gender, race, or confidence level instead of paying attention to what a person is actually saying.

“We’d hope that facts would be the currency of influence,” Bonner told The Wall Street Journal in 2013. “But often, we guess at who’s the expert — and we’re wrong.”

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(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Show that people agree

In his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini says “social proof” is one of the best tactics for getting people to see things your way. It exploits the well-documented tendency for people to conform to others’ opinions, even if they’re strange.

According to social proof, we assume that what other people are doing is the correct behaviour in a situation. It is the reason long lines in front of a restaurant make the food inside seem so tantalising. It is also why having the endorsement of a celebrity is such an effective marketing tool.

Use graphs

According to a 2014 study from Cornell University researchers Aner Tal and Brian Wansink, people trust scientists. Thus doing something that makes you appear scientific — like using a graph — makes you more trustworthy.

“The prestige of science appears to grant persuasive power even to such trivial science-related elements as graphs,” Tal and Wansink wrote.

Go beyond anecdotes

A story about how your uncle or college roommate eats loads of butter and still stays fit is an anecdote.

But if you want to be taken seriously, you need to use data, the kind that’s arrived at through peer-reviewed studies with representative samples.

Better yet, go for consensus.

“Scientists often use ‘consensus’ as the ultimate argument-winner, and for good reason,” Jacquelyn Gill wrote on Contemplative Mammoth. “Scientific consensus is the collected opinions of all scientists, and not just the one you’re arguing with.

“There can be one or two scientists who disagree (just like there are a handful of people who don’t believe the Holocaust happened), but if the vast majority of scientists have reached consensus, it means that there is so much evidence in support of an idea that it’s basically a guaranteed thing, based on state-of-the-art knowledge.”

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