How I Got Better At Defending Myself In Arguments

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Eleanor Rosevelt


Understanding Arguments

Arguments, discussions, debates are all part of our lives whether we like them or not.

You are bound to find yourself in a conversation where you have to defend (or want to defend) your opinion. And most likely your opinion will conflict with the other party.

This does not mean you are necessarily in a fight with them but rather you both have a difference of opinions and every right to express your thoughts in a persuasive manner. 

These situations happen at different times in our lives. Here are some everyday examples:

  • A job interviewer puts on the spot to defend your credentials/experience of a subject
  • Convincing your mother to open up an IRA savings account for her future
  • Discussing anything relating to politics, Donald Trump or Barack Obama
  • Having an argument with your girlfriend/boyfriend

Sometimes we are ready for them and sometimes they catch us off guard.

However, for most of us, we try to avoid confrontation. We seek to just get through it and let the other person verbally walk all over us.

I used to be someone who fell into this category. I actively tried to avoid discussions or conversations that could lead to a difference in viewpoints. Whenever I found myself at a difference of opinions I would always be the one to surrender first. I would try to end the conversation as quickly as possible and walk away with my tail between my legs.

This is NOT a good approach.

We all are unique individuals with unique perspectives. We all have something important to say and need to be heard. In America, we have been afforded the freedom of speech. People have died and continue to put their lives on the line for this freedom. We need to honor this freedom by saying what we truly feel and not get bullied, intimidated or overpowered by the other side.

Since I have struggled with this for a long period of my life I decided to take charge and read some books on self-confidence and the art of discussion. I am writing this article to provide three basic principles on how to control the discussion in your favor and get your points across clearly. These skills have worked well for me and I believe they are important for everyone to know.

We may not always need them but they are definitely skills we should always have and sharpen.

1. Slow Down The Pace of The Conversation

When we get into deep or heated discussions with people, the speed of the conversation increases.

In order to try and keep up, we tend to immediately say the first thing that pops up in our heads. Often times what we say isn’t a full fledge thought or valid argument.  Without strong arguments, the discussion starts to tip in the other person’s favor and shortly after we have lost our momentum and the discussion.

Another thing we do is let the other person shoot off multiple arguments without interruption or rebuttal.

This allows the other person to dominate the discussion and lay out many more points we have. Sometimes this happens because we do not have a good enough rebuttal. Other times it is simply because we need more time to process the last statement and think of a valid counter. In either case, letting the other side dictate the pace of a discussion often leads to them controlling the conversation and ultimately them winning it.

If we want to keep the discussion in our favor or allow for us to get out all valid points then we must control the pace of the conversation.

One trick I have found to be incredibly helpful in these situations is to use “blocking or pausing statements”.

These statements put a halt to the other person’s dialogue and forces them to address the statement which you have put forth.

Blocking statements like “Hold on that doesn’t add up” or “That really does not match what you initially said”, catches the other person off guard and psychologically can even psyche them out. They now have to stop and think about what they last said and review if it is a valid point or how it supports their previous points in the discussion.

If they were just shooting off comments as soon as those thoughts came to their head they will now have to pause and re-evaluate everything that comes out of their mouth moving forward.

Pausing statements like “I think we should focus on your last point” or “Hold on, I want to make sure that I address your previous point” causes the person to stop in their tracks and give you permission to speak.

This might even scare them into thinking you found a hole in their argument or have something important to say.

This allows you to stop the other person from talking. It also allows you time to think of a valid counter-argument or ask clarifying questions to better understand their last point and determine where you can poke holes in it.

You have now successfully stopped the momentum of the conversation and given yourself a window of opportunity to push it in your favor.

2. Keep Your Emotions In Check

How many times have you been in a conversation when your emotions get the best of you?

The conversation reaches a point where you have been angered, enraged, hurt or fearful. You start to take the conversation personally and your emotions stir and take over.

Now your emotions are taking control and you start saying things that are based on feeling (not fact) or attack the other person.

This is a clear sign the argument has gotten the better of you and you are now losing because the other person (intentional or not) has broken you down.

Unfortunately, this happens to a lot of us than we would like to admit. This is a bad place to be because we have given enough power to the conversation or the other party to psychologically affect us. What’s worse is now we have shown signs of weakness and vulnerability to the other side. They may even choose to exploit this and use this tactic in the future.

No conversation, discussion or argument should EVER get to this level. We should never let it get to this point.

A technique I have found to be effective in keeping emotions in check is to defuse the tension, impact or momentum of a conversation with a joke or laugh.

Just a simple joke or laugh is enough to snap both parties away from the seriousness of the conversation.

Poking fun at the situations with something simple like “Phew things are getting heavy, haha” or “I’m getting really hungry” allows you to quickly break the spell of any emotions the conversation was trying to stir up.

Backhanded jokes like “Man you remind me of my mother” show the other party whatever they are trying to do has no impact on you because you are used to it. You are able to just shrug it off and make light of it.

You have made the conversation objective again and shown that you cannot be bullied or intimidated.

3. Ask Clarifying Questions

Another key factor which can add to us losing arguments, getting overwhelmed or surrendering is because we do not fully understand the other person’s argument.

Either they are using really big words we do not understand, speaking quickly or making long-winded points.

In all three of the cases, we lose track of the conversation because we do not fully understand the points the other party is making. We have nothing to rebuttal with other than “I guess that makes sense” or “Uhhh” or “Okay”, allowing the other person on capitalizing on that and continue making points we do not understand.

Before we realize it, we are no longer in control and have no idea what the other person is saying. We have mentally and verbally surrendered. This happens all-too-often and this is a tactic people know works to intimidate or confuse their opponent and so they will use to win an argument.

We must NOT let this happen because it shows signs of weakness and vulnerability. The other side will pick up on this and continue to use this tactic in the future knowing that it is effective against us.

One good practice to make sure this does not happen is by asking clarifying questions.

Ask questions to make sure you fully understand the person’s last point. Ask them to restate it in a way that makes more sense.

This is a great way of making them fully responsible for owning their points. By doing this you force them to re-explain it so you can understand it and potentially poke holes in it. They are also forced to rethink the argument and remove all of the jargon and double speak which made it confusing in the first place.

Without jargon and doublespeak to mask their points the argument might just be weak and fall apart on itself. They may realize themselves their argument is weak and mentally start to regress and defend the validity of the point rather than their stance in the overall discussion.

In most cases, people do not expect to re-explain their points or rephrase them in simpler terms and so asking clarifying questions can really put a halt to the momentum of the conversation in your favor.

You are now in control and all you did was just ask them to repeat themselves or for some examples.

What Advice Do You Have To Win Or Solve Arguments?

What I’ve shared above are learnings from my own experiences. However, I am always in search of better or more peaceful ways to defuse or solve arguments without implementing these tactics. I would love to hear what important lessons you have learned or if you have any corrections to my points. Feel free to comment below with some examples. Please share so we can learn and grow.

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