Think about your last argument with a family member, a coworker, a supplier, a customer, a boss, a contractor, or the IRS.
Were you convinced that the other side had a closed mind? Did either side put up the same tired arguments, resisting new facts and information? Did either side overgeneralize differences, saying, “You always…,” “You only…,” or “You never…”? Did either side make threats they really didn’t want to carry out? Did either side lose their cool? Did the other side then counter by angrily raising their voice?
Arguments are a war of words….
Each side digging in to defend their position. Resisting change because they are committed to the status quo...or because in their minds there is a justification that supports their position…or because they are attached to what is comfortable and familiar…or because their good judgment is on the line.
Each side withholding information or distorting the information they choose to give. Each side saying only those things they can say well. Each side changing from being stubbornly right to being adamantly righteous. Each side relying on their gut instincts and premonitions. And why not? It’s always easier to take a stand than to understand. So, too, it’s easier to decide against than to decide for.
As the war of words wages on, issues become more complex. Outcomes become less predictable. Retorts become more simplistic.
Or maybe there is silence—the hardest argument of all to refute.
Because “know-it-alls” don’t win arguments
“If God hadn’t made me so beautiful, I’d be a teacher.”—Supermodel Linda Evangelista
Tulane Law School’s dean confided to me, “The trouble with young professionals, particularly newly minted lawyers and MBAs from top schools, is that they are often as smug as they are bright. They talk down to other people as if they had the seasoning that only comes from years of hands-on experience.”
Take the case of a brilliant 25-year-old. He was called a “Wall Street Wizard.” After he was profiled in a New York Times article as one of the “faces of the New York economy,” he was asked to resign from the elite investment banking firm Morgan Stanley.
Describing himself in the interview as being young and affluent, he listed among his personal extravagances expensive electronic equipment, a Rolex watch, and a closetful of custom-made suits. So why the sudden resignation? The whiz kid broke his employer’s strict code of conduct that frowns on self-aggrandizing lifestyle interviews and personal profiles.
It’s not only grey flannel firms such as Morgan Stanley that discourage blatant horn-tooting. Most people react negatively to would-be persuaders who grab opportunities to brag and boast.
You may be brilliant in your field—God’s gift to law, medicine, real estate, gourmet cooking, but don’t wear your brilliance on your sleeve. It won’t win you arguments—only resentment as a know-it-all.
Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you’re wonderful. Are you as brilliant as you’d like to believe? Here’s the test: Think 10 years in the future. Will you know a lot then that you don’t know now thanks to 10 more years of experience and learning? If so, now pause to consider how much you have yet to learn. Did you find the test humbling?
When someone else blows your horn, the sound is twice as loud. The art of subtle self-promotion is quoting clients and customers, or associates whom they know or whose reputation they respect. It’s weaving real-life stories and case studies into your argument. Instead of proclaiming, “We’re the fastest-growing company in our field,” say something more easily digested. For example, “It’s not a mere accident that we’re the fastest-growing company in our field. The reason is....” It’s giving credit to associates and others who’ve helped you achieve success.
Know when to cool it. No one is ever truly influenced by a know-it-all. Or even worse, a full-of-yourself-tell-it-all. Let the other guy discover for himself why he should buy into your argument from your stories and experiential anecdotes and from the praise that others have for you.
Reprinted, with permission of the publisher, from HOW TO WIN ANY ARGUMENT, REVISED EDITION © 2012 Robert Mayer
Published by Career Press, Pompton Plains, NJ. 800-227-3371. All rights reserved.