Persuasion is an art. And like every other art, it can be developed and perfected. More importantly, it’s necessary. Whether it’s about convincing our friends and family about a personal choice or a public debate – we cannot avoid being persuasive. At the same time, we need to understand that our cause is not unreasonable, because in that case not only would we lose the argument but also damage our reputation as an argumentative person. So, ask yourself some basic questions first, before you begin to argue.
Here’s a guide to how you can win the argument in every situation.
People listen to the argument, but they also pay a close attention to where it is coming from. It is understandable. After all, it helps them to be selective about whom to listen and whom to trust. You must have noticed how convincing an argument seems if it comes from Stephen Hawking compared with the times when it comes from a conspiracy theorist. So, work on your credibility. How? Start right now. Every conversation is important. Choose your words very carefully. If you are going to utter a lot of non-sense, then, at some point, it would come back to bite you in an argument. Aristotle talked about the credibility or the authority factor when he mentioned Ethos in his book The Art of Rhetoric.
Reason, reason and reason
Aristotle described human-beings as rational animals. And therefore he talks about Logos (reasoning) in The Art of Rhetoric. This is not much different from the idea of tripartite soul that Plato introduced in his book The Republic. Plato says that human beings have physical desires, spiritual energy and a logical mind. If you have noticed, it’s only people’s logical mind that we can convince. Which means, we would require logical arguments backed with facts. We cannot simply enforce our beliefs on others. So, no matter how difficult an argument gets, stick to reason.
We are humans. There is no way we can ignore our emotions. Aristotle says, in order to get people on our side, we need to make them empathise with us. This is the same reason Art is so much more effective in convincing people than a school lecture. Art does not command us what to do, instead, it gives us a perspective and makes us empathise with the subject. If I ask you to be kind towards deaf and blind people, you may agree, but you may not exactly know what exactly or how to do that. But if you read a book on the subject, let’s say, Hellen Keller’s The Story of My Life, the impact would be much more powerful. People do not empathise with flamboyance, but with the suffering of others.
Trumping a smart opponent
It’s not easy to outsmart a smart opponent. That is where Game Theory can help us. It’s a mathematical theory which has gone well beyond the realm of mathematics. Game Theory suggests that if it’s a Zero Sum Game, you can frustrate your opponent by being random at times. This is what cognitive dissonance theory is all about. It says, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their behaviour, and when there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviours, something must change to eliminate the dissonance. You will always be a step ahead of your opponent in such a case. If you are trying to convince a family member, particularly if you are a parent, then “The Game Theorist’s Guide to Parenting” will tell you how you can use similar strategies.
Arthur Schopenhauer’s book The Art of Being Right is a must read. In fact, this is the first book you should read if you want to perfect your argumentative side. In this book, Schopenhauer says that even if your opponent hugely disagrees with you, you can present an extreme opposite side of your view and make them disagree to that. In this manner, you would be able to persuade them that your view is not exactly wrong.
Destroying the opponent
No, not literally. But there will be instances where the debate does not move in any meaningful way, and you simply want to get the better of your opponent. Try the Socratic method in that case. Plato’s Republic has a wonderful sequence of events where Socrates would ask targeted questions and frustrate his opponent. The same you can do. For example, if your opponent says that you are being unreasonable, you can ask questions like – why does that affect you? Or why do you think being a little unreasonable is bad?
Try these approaches and you would be in a much better position to present your argument and eventually win your opponent.