How to Win an Argument

heartsickness-lover-s-grief-lovesickness-coupe-50592-mediumI understand that most people have a point to make, a position to defend and that in doing so, tempers often flare, and voice volumes rise. At the end of the “discussion” friends or family members may be alienated and the difference in positions remains. Neither party was convinced of the other person’s argument, regardless of which is right or wrong. The impasse remains intact. Neither party got the results they were seeking.

Thinking back on a time when you have had a similar experience, if you could pull off a magic trick that would create the perfect solution, I bet it would be that the other person would see the wisdom of your point of view and cooperate with you, right? You want them to understand, cooperate and benefit, don’t you?

wisdom from an old sage

Ben Franklin
Benjamin Franklin

There is a way to create the winning result you want. It is a little more difficult than magic, but not much.

Way back in the late 1700’s, Benjamin Franklin shared a very wise tidbit of information that can virtually assure one of winning any argument…without having to argue. Here’s what Ben said:

“If you would persuade, appeal to interest, rather than to logic.”

That’s not very difficult. Just find out what your opponent’s interest regarding a situation is and frame your argument to deliver the satisfaction of that interest, and don’t try to swindle or deceive.

It has also been said, and my experience proves it to be accurate, that the person who frames the question wins the debate. Think before entering into an argument and find a way to frame the question around the other person’s interests and you are all but guaranteed to emerge with a viable solution of your own making.

Collaberation trumps competition

A shining example of this appears in Dale Carnegie’s classic book¬†How to Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936.

Back in the late 1800’s, when the railroad was really big business in America, there was a serious competitive battle going on between Andrew Carnegie, the famous steel magnate and George Pullman, who developed the famed Pullman Palace Sleeping Car for trains.

Pullman developed the sleeping car. Sometime after Pullman’s business took off, Carnegie entered the sleeping car business as a competitor. The companies were locked in fierce competition for the sleeping car business of the Union Pacific Railroad. They had both stooped to cutting prices and were in the process of eliminating the possibility of profits for either.

As all this was going on, both men attended a board meeting of the Union Pacific Railroad. Carnegie approached Pullman with this question: “Mr. Pullman, aren’t we making a couple of fools of ourselves?” After Pullman asked “what do you mean?”, Carnegie proposed a merger of their two companies. He enthusiastically expressed the advantages of the two companies working together, rather than fighting one another.

Pullman’s reaction was tentative; he was not fully convinced when he asked Carnegie “What would you call the company?” Carnegie’s answer was genius. He said “Why the Pullman Palace Car Company, of course.” As Dale Carnegie said in his book, The two men continued to talk and soon “made industrial history.”

ordinary man applies genius

Andrew Carnegie applied two strokes of genius to win that argument. First he framed the debate; second he appealed to George Pullman’s interest, by playing on man’s natural tendency to love and revere his name.

Carnegie also applied wisdom in that situation. He overcame his natural tendency to fear being rejected, and he put his natural pride aside.

If Carnegie had held on to his fear or pride, the competition would most likely have continued, until both men experienced serious financial loss. And the argument would most likely have ended the way most arguments end; as a stalemate, with neither party having the benefit of a profitable association with the other.

Because of Mr. Carnegie’s ability and willingness to control himself and to use his understanding of people, his opponent, Mr. Pullman, came to understand, cooperate and benefit. And the benefit was mutual.


Both men benefitted because one of them had the foresight to reframe the debate, and appeal to his opponent’s interest.

Mr. Carnegie was able to reframe the debate and appeal to Mr. Pullman’s interest because he imagined that there was a better solution and changed his perception of the business model that was detrimental to both men. It all begins in the mind, with the imagination.

The very same principles can be applied to any contentious situation, or argument that you might be facing. Just imagine a happy ending, reframe the debate for the benefit of you and your opponent and appeal to your opponent’s interest.

As my friend Dan Miller of 48 Days fame says:

“A rising tide raises all ships”

If your interest is to not lose an argument, don’t jump into one without careful forethought and planning.

The most sound logic won’t win your opponent to your viewpoint.

Question:  Have you ever been bewildered when you were unable to get someone to respond to your sound logic? If so, how did you deal with the situation and what results did you get?

You can leave your answer in the comments below, or send your comment to me by using the form below.



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