Want to Win an Argument? No You Don’t.

Negotiating and arguing are different things. It’s also not the same as debating or selling. In all those other activities you are trying to change someone’s mind to some degree.

That is not the case with negotiation, and one of the first things that you need to get straight before you engage in a negotiation is what you are trying to influence the other party to do. You probably won’t get them to change their mind. But you need them to agree to something, and the easier you make this for them, the better.

Consider These Quotes:

‘Negotiation is the art of letting them have your way’, and ‘In any negotiation you need to give the other party an agreement that they can claim as a victory.’

The fact that both of these quotes have been attributed to many people testifies to their legitimacy.

Why Argue?

It is safe to assume that as you approach a negotiation there is a difference in positions between the 2 parties, or there would be no need for a negotiation. There may be differences in opinion, and there will often be a ‘history’ which is shaping each party’s view of the negotiation. Arguing is usually a fairly binary activity, in other words you are trying to prove why you are right, and therefore by implication, why they are wrong. Once an argument gets going, this implication becomes more overtly stated.

But what are the chances of them agreeing that they are wrong? There is a much greater chance that your telling them you are right and they are wrong will make them take an even more entrenched position. It is often not in their interest to agree wth you.

In an argument you are trying to prove your point and hoping to get them to admit their error, back down and ultimately agree with you. In a debate you are not trying to get the other party to change their mind, but you are trying to influence the opinion of the wider group or audience. Neither of these is the case in a negotiation.

Try Losing Instead

The fact is that you don’t necessarily need them to agree with you. This is quite a hard concept to grasp for people who love to argue, love to prove that they are right, and to score points from their opponents. You do not need to influence an audience in the same way as you have to in a debate.

The more you try to get the other party to back down from their position, in fact the opposite will happen; they will become more entrenched in their position and try to counter your argument as they attempt to demonstrate why they are right.

Trying to win an argument in a negotiation is therefore a fruitless excercise for the following reasons:

  • it will encourage them to become more entrenched in their position
  • they will look for reasons as to why your position is ‘wrong’
  • they will get comfortable with disagreeing with you

The final reason is that you will never win an argument in a negotiation. I would go far to say that you will never win an argument, full stop. Think about it – when was the last time you won an argument? Perhaps with your other half? Not likely! If you are able to think of an occasion where you do think that you won, then what probably happened is that they just stored it up to fire back at you at some later date – even if that was months or years later!

No one likes to lose an argument or anything else for that matter. So don’t go into your negotiations trying to beat them. Instead, move the conversation away from potential areas of disagreement and keep everything solution focussed. Let them win the argument while you focus on the result – you will achieve a lot more.

‘If you need something from someone, always give that person a way to hand it to you.’ Sue Monk Kidd.



Dan Hughes

He has specialised in negotiation consulting since 2005, and set up his own business in 2012 bringing this expertise to businesses small and large in all parts of the world. This company - bridge][ability ltd - runs behavioural and strategic planning negotiation skills programs which transform capabilities and has a client list which includes Tesco, The FA, Fujitsu, Capita, Reiss, Take 2 Interactive (the company behind Grand Theft Auto), BBC Worldwide and Channel 4. http://www.bridge-ability.com/Home/Client-List

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