“A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still” (Unknown)
I mentioned in a recent post that I was once on my High School debate team. For 4 years, I worked hard to hone the skill of finding flaws in other people’s arguments, and exploiting them to win my point. And, I learned how to cover the holes in my own arguments, and how to dance around them when necessary. When I was learning these skills, they were so that I could win at a competition that had rules, and judges, and where scores were kept. The argumentation was just supposed to teach me how to win at that particular game. Sadly, I didn’t get that at the time.
If I had taken up fencing in High School, I think it is unlikely that I’d have gone around to my family and friends poking them with my foil. If I had played on the football team, I wouldn’t have strapped on my gear and started tackling everyone around me. I did play baseball during my High School years, but I never slid into someone who was standing in my yard. Those would have all been silly misappropriations of the skills learned for those sports.
When it came to argumentation, though, I took it with me everywhere I went. It took me a long time to tame the argument beast, and I will admit that I have never completely slayed it. Arguing ones point isn’t limited to those of us who spent our Saturdays wearing suits in High School. All of us have learned this fine skill.
What I find truly sad when I watch some of the cable news programs is how little real argumentation ever goes on. Mostly people just talk past one another, and never really address the other person’s points. In my days as a debater, they would have been marked down for that. But, I digress.
The point I am trying to make is that I have a strong argument muscle, and I am not alone in that way.
Here is the sad truth. Other than those Saturdays in High School, want to know how many arguments I have one in my lifetime?
That’s right, my winning percentage on arguments in life is ZERO POINT ZERO.
Am I admitting to a lack of capability when it comes to getting my point across? Am I saying that anything I would choose to argue about is so weak, that I cannot bring home the bacon? Not at all. What I am admitting to is the simple fact that when two people argue, NO ONE WINS. When two people argue there are only losers, and other losers.
In the rare circumstances that the argument itself results in someone clearly winning the point, then the person who lost is clearly one of the losers. But you know who else is a loser? The person who WON the point as well. They are have lost because when an argument happens outside the friendly confines of scored competition, then feelings get hurt. If I absolutely bury someone with my argument such that I have won the point, then it is almost certain that I have hurt their feelings. And, even if their feelings are incredibly resilient, I have damaged the relationship.
Oh, and here is the best worst part. Even if I am successful in my argument, they haven’t changed their mind. They still believe the same thing they did before, only now they are looking for more ammo. That’s what the quote above is about, and that is the best reason I can think of to avoid arguments.
The principle at the bottom of this post is the first of 12 in How to Win Friend and Influence People, that fall under the subtitle “Win People to Your Way of Thinking.” Starting today, and going through March 23, I’ll be walking us through a process and set of principles designed to help us convince others to come around to our way of thinking. With that as our goal, the first thing we have to learn, the most painful of all the lessons in this section is that we will never bring someone to our way of thinking by arguing with them.
Remember the first of all the principles? It is “Don’t criticize, condemn or complain.” That principle kicked off the section with the subtitle “Become a friendlier person.” We learned at the very beginning of this journey that we cannot be seen as friendly people if we spend our time criticizing, condemning and complaining. We had to wipe that slate clean and start doing something new, something that might go against what we considered to be our nature. The same is true here.
If our goal in these next 12 principles is to win people to our way of thinking, we must first wipe the slate clean of arguing. We will talk a lot about the difference between coercion and cooperation in these next 12 principles. The thing we have to remember, and must constantly remind ourselves of is this inescapable truth…
Principle 10 – The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.