6 Ways to Argue More Effectively

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Former FBI negotiator Gary Noesner explains how to get anyone on your side.

1. Don’t Try to Win
In a hostage situation, we never go in saying, “We’re gonna win, and this person’s gonna lose.” It’s not about getting you to comply with what I want or accept my point of view. It’s about us working together to reach the best agreement we can. And this applies to dealing with a boss, or a wife, or any other relationship. A win is a mutual thing.

2. Keep Your Emotions in Check
Self-control is essential when trying to influence someone’s decision-making process. If you get angry or display frustration, if your body language says you’re pissed off, you’ve lost already. But if you behave in positive ways, it has a tendency to be mimicked. It’s hard to have a two-way argument when only one person is arguing.

3. Keep Their Emotions in Check
When people are argumentative and raising their voices, what they’re really saying is, “I want you to hear me. I’m angry.” So acknowledge that: “You sound like you’re really upset.” Slow down and wait to articulate your point of view. Imagine a child’s teeter-totter at an angle: When emotions are high, rationality is low. Before you can gain cooperation, you have to lower emotions.

4. Be a Good Listener
Take the time to understand the other person’s point of view and you’re much more likely to be successful in getting what you want. Be open physically, too: Face the person, make good eye contact, be attentive, and smile – it’s one of the most powerful influencing tools we know.

5. Start Small
If you treat an argument like a zero-sum game, it prevents you from taking a more appropriate intermediate step, which is, “Let’s find some common areas.” Tackle the issue that has the best chance for compromise. Lock that one down, then move  on to the more difficult ones, knowing they may not be solvable.

6. Give to Receive
If you demonstrate a willingness to be open and flexible – that you’re willing to meet halfway, that there are aspects of your position you might modify – it puts a burden on them. It’s like saying, “It’s your turn to show that you, too, can be sensible.” Most reasonable, intelligent people will say, “OK, this person has stepped out on a limb; they’re willing to work with me. Now I have to show something.”

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