How to Win

I kinda like to argue. I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve got some kind of confrontational personality disorder.

I used to argue stuff I didn’t even believe just to enjoy the verbal sparring involved in trying to prove my point. I was addicted to the idea of the win, The moment when I had back my opponent into  a logical corner and they’d have to throw up their hands and say, “Clearly Albert, your’s is the superior intellect. I concede your point and reject my previous position.”

Except that never happened. No matter how well I argued, people would leave the conversation believing the same thing they had always believed, thinking the same way they had always thought.

I came to the conclusion that most people’s minds were fixed like concrete, that once an idea had taken root there no amount of logic could serve to pull it out. The idea of the win was a myth.

But recently I’ve been giving the win some more thought. Winning arguments doesn’t work. No matter how many facts you have at your disposal most people will go on believing what they’ve always believed. But you can change minds. How?

You have to win people.

“Win people?” you may ask. “What does that mean?”

Winning people is all about connection. It’s about creating friendships. It’s about being a nice person.

The best way to make someone see your point of view is to first make them like you. It sounds simple enough, but it’s a fact that most of our society chooses to ignore. Take for instance, the most recent presidential elections. Political pundits took great joy in dissecting the minutia of the different candidates campaign platforms, their political plans and economic strategies.

And in the end the man who won was the candidate who was the most likable.

This is coming from a guy who’s pretty staunchly conservative, by the way. I watched the campaign and I didn’t agree with most of Barak Obama’s policies, but even I had to admit that the man was charismatic and engaging. I enjoyed listening to him say things I disagreed with more than I enjoyed listening to McCain say (some) things that I agreed with.

We can moan and whine all we want about how unfair it is that people make decisions based on personal feelings, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The world we live in is not based on logic; it is based on likability.

Winning people isn’t just for politicians. It’s a good idea for everyone who wants to make an impact on the world, including us writers.

We want to get our work out into the world some day, and we want people to buy it. That’s why it’s so important that we nurture friendships and make connections that will leave a positive impression on the people around us.

The internet has expanded our capacity to make those connections in an amazing way, but it’s up to us to use that capability wisely. Time spent on Twitter and Facebook doesn’t have to be wasted. If we do it right we can forge friendships that may prove invaluable for us later on. At the very least we’re getting our name out there into the world, so that one day when we’re finally newly minted authors with books on the shelves of a real bookstore those friends we’ve made over the years will be there to buy them up.

Bottom line: we should never ever reject the power of relationships or forget the importance likability. Winning people may take longer than winning an argument, but time spent winning people is never wasted.

17 responses to “How to Win

  1. I like to argue too. Or shall we call it debating? Great post.

  2. There’s an app for that: PR. It’s why Reagan’s campaign and Presidency was *filled* with test marketing on speeches (pre-screening, people were hooked up to heart rate monitors to find the most “moving” phrases).

    People say he was the great communicator but he had scores of people writing and rewriting and testing before he ever tried to communicate to the public.

    It’s good business.

    • Yes, but I believe there’s still got to be some personal charisma in there too. I’m sure John McCain spent boatloads of money on research about how to improve his image, but it didn’t do much good because he was, you know, John McCain.
      When I think back to the recent presidents, Reagan, Clinton, Bush 43, they all had something that set them apart personalitywise. Even though lots of people absolutely hated Bush 43 he still managed to exude a certain kind of folksy charm that I think a lot of people connected with. John Kerry on the other hand…not so much.

      • I used to like listening to Mr. McCain before his run for President…I think perhaps once he got THERE it was over his head or he was getting too much advice, you see?

        I’m not saying he was delightful before but I’d stop and listen when he spoke about things for years before the campaign.

        Once he got on the campaign, I’d say he looked like not only an ass but an OLD ass.

  3. ‘Nice’ to find another struggling writer!

    I’d be interested in a definition for ‘nice’ (smile). Would you care to blog about that? (‘nother smile).


    • Ooh, you caught me. “Nice” is a weak word, and somewhat ambiguous. The Elements of Style cautions against using it at all, but I chose it partly because of it’s ambiguity.
      I also enjoy occasionally using one of the original meanings of the word which is “precise.” I’m kind of a language nerd that way.

  4. Great post, and so true. Very often when we argue just to “win” the debate, we not only don’t win people to our position … often they walk away not just continuing to disagree but actively disliking us. Which will only make them less likely to ever agree with us.

    (Plus even when we think we’ve “won” sometimes people simply abhor debates enough that they are willing to *say* they agree just to shut us up and go back about their lives.)

  5. Do you want to hook up on facebook?
    Thinking of political leaders it is certainly true, though I do not think likeability is the key but carisma. Hitler, Moussolini, Gandhi, ML King, they were not necessarily the nicest creatures on this planet but they definitely networked and knew where they would go. Just being “nice” would not have been a success factor for Obama either. He is a great speaker and represents simply a strong leader (which you might not agree with) in terms of ideas and persuasion.

    Our defense minister Dr. Guttenberg, a very likeable, sociable politician, whom I even liked though he was in the more conservative party in Germany, just had to resign over some academic quarrel. Just being nice was not enough!

    • “Nice” is probably too general. I’m talking about, in his case, a kind of personal magnetism. I think most powerful world leaders have some measure of it no matter what they stand for politically.

  6. Okay. I like to argue, too, but I don’t personalize it. Recently, I took the time to listen and observe how their minds work. I learn a lot about people that way. I also learned to hold my tongue when it comes to arguments simply because the more I tell them why it’s not working, the more they hold on to their beliefs. Very seldom do I choose to argue nowadays.

  7. Albert, I also enjoyed the debate, the attempt to persuade, or defeat with “superior” arguments…However, I did not realize many successful conversions in opinion either. You are right on in expressing the need to win people not arguments. Thanks for the comments.

  8. I think people with big passions coupled with big tempers often get caught in that.
    Okay, no narrative- I know I do that. Sometimes the hardest thing for me when I find myself engaged in an argument is to take a step back and recognize that, at a certain point- there’s no way you’re going to convince that person of what you’re trying to. You won’t, and worse, you end up in some weird, poo-flinging sort of fight that makes no sense and doesn’t do much good for anyone.

    What I came to conclude a long time ago- particularly in terms of political arguments, which, I cannot resist- at heart, I think that most people who get into them actually care.
    The kicker for me has been to recognize that though we might disagree about the means, the end is often very close. For me, I tend to make friends with those who disagree with me. I like them. I like them because sometimes with my hot headed gung ho-ness, they can and will point out things I may not see. I kinda dig that.

    • I think part of the problem is that people really care. For instance If I think that socialized medicine will ruin the economy I’m going to argue against it. But if you think that without socialized medicine children will die you’re going to argue for it.
      Hypothetically speaking, both us hold these beliefs in sincerity so it’s going to be hard to reach any kind of consensus. We’re looking at the same issue from two different angles and seeing completely different things. Neither one of is lying. We may not even both be wrong. That’s what makes politics so complicated.

      • Yep. Personally, when it comes to politics, I get much more concerned when the discussion doesn’t get slightly heated. I feel that people *need* to care. More than that, people need to understand that these differences we all have are an absolutely wonderful thing.

        How great would it be if you and I sat down to coffee, with our completely oppositional views. My heart is screaming, “But think of the sick children!”
        Your heart is screaming, “But their parents, the tax-inheritance we’re giving those kids, think of the long range!”
        And between those two oppositional views, came out with a solution that worked?

        I think that’s actually how it should be- but our system’s so far away from that anymore and more closely resembling an episode of Jerry Springer. 😉

        I don’t believe that Red and Blue make for bickering. Or at least, they shouldn’t. Red and Blue make purple, and purple’s pretty great. (Even though, *cough* It ain’t easy being Green.)

  9. The easiest way I’ve found to ‘win’ people over is through humor. I don’t know if humor is always the best way to win an argument, but if you can get the person to laugh, at least you’ve ‘won’ something. So can a little humor help to win an argument?

    • Humor is a fantastic tool, especially when communicating through the written word like we do on the internet.
      Humor itself won’t win the argument per-say, but it will make the person you’re speaking with more likely to listen to what you have to say. The point of the post is that most of the time you have to make some kind of positive personal connection before you can change someone’s opinion.

  10. This is something I am making myself understand these days by reading the book “How to win friends and influence people”. It’s a fact. We often codemn or complain on the basis of some logic, but this world doesn’t work that way, even we don’t. We do what we like, we prefer what we like.

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