How To Win an Argument

Two boys shouting in argument

Show, Don’t Tell

Making your point is a challenge in a world where everyone thinks their opinion reigns supreme. It is human nature to believe that what we think as an individual is correct, and that we are the top authority in whatever topic is being discussed.

It is extremely difficult to change someone’s mind with your words. This is because oftentimes, our opinions are based on emotions, not facts. For example, when arguing with someone about an opposing political standpoint, you are really pushing against their emotional ties to the group they are affiliated with. To change their ideologies based on your words would feel like being traitorous to their party. It is much more loaded than just learning and applying facts.

Being presented with facts that contradict our beliefs also creates an unpleasant mental state called cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is literally the perception of contradictory information. When we experience cognitive dissonance, we will do almost anything in our power to resolve the contradiction, even if that means responding with anger and denying the facts altogether. Sometimes people who aren’t even confident in their opinions will become avidly defensive of them just because of this mental state.

So if being presented with hard evidence and debate doesn’t work, how do we change someone’s mind?

As Robert Greene put it in his book The 48 Laws of Power, the secret to winning an argument is to “demonstrate, not explicate.”

Artwork monkey with lightbulb leading the way down path
Photo by Jennifer Griffin on Unsplash

By using our actions to demonstrate an opposing view, we are planting the seeds into the person’s mind, allowing them to grow the ideas themselves and feel they’ve formed those opinions on their own authority. This opens the door for ideas to disseminate without breeding defensiveness. 

One great example of a person using actions instead of words to make an argument can be found in the story of Daryl Davis. Davis is a black man and a musician who has single-handedly led 200 members of the Klu Klux Klan to abandon their robes.

The first Klan member Davis met was a white man who was enjoying his piano-playing at a bar called the Silver Dollar Lounge. The man shook Davis’s hand and told him he’d never heard a black man play the blues so well– an astounding observation, given that blues was invented by black men.

They got on so well over a drink that Davis was surprised when he learned of his Klan affiliation. Instead of beginning a verbal argument, Davis decided to befriend the man. Eventually they found so many commonalities between them and became so close, the man relinquished his robes and left the Klu Klux Klan for good.

By demonstrating the similarities between the two men, Davis was able to turn that first man away from his divisive ideologies, and went on to have the same success with over 200 KKK members.

What Davis was able to do was plant the seed of equality in his friends’ minds so that they would eventually come to the conclusion he was no less than them on their own accord. This made it much easier for them to walk away from their roots.

Considering the strong bonds people have with the groups they are affiliated with, and the old ideas they often inherit from their families and friends, it is hardly easy to change their minds. It truly shows the effectiveness of this tactic to be able to convince a man so well that he betrays such strong forces in his life to walk a different path.

When we choose to show, not tell, we experience double the win. We make our point, and nobody gets offended in the process.

This is the most effective strategy to change someone’s mind. Demonstrate your idea without a word– whether through friendship, visuals, or interactions with others. We are predisposed to value our own observations over words. After all, the eyes rarely lie, but people often do.

Leave a Reply