University of Nottingham Malaysia
Centre for English Language and Foundation Education

Article #8: How to Win Any Arguments

Argumentation skill is one of the most important transferable skills in the 21st century, and it has been listed as the skill that can increase graduates’ employability. Mastering argumentation skill both in written and oral discourse is a must for university students, but this skill goes beyond the classroom walls. We argue or find ourselves in an argument all the time, and sometimes it happens when you least expect it. What if I tell you that you can win an argument even when you lack the silver tongue of your opponent?  Here is how: 

Ask questions or become the questioner.

Whether the subject is global warming, political conflicts in the Middle East, or the best cafe in town, the questioning method will let you win any arguments every single time. 

The questioning method was introduced by the early Greek philosopher, Socrates. Socrates believed that the practice of thoughtful questioning will enable people to examine ideas logically and determine the validity of those ideas. Rather than making points, the Socratic method of questioning concentrates on asking questions that can help both parties explore the issues in depth. 

You can find the six types of Socratic questions here.

For example, suppose you find yourself in an argument with someone you vehemently disagree with, you might know that any words misspoke can lead to an emotional situation. This situation can get out of hand especially when anger enters the equation which can end with both parties upset and frustrated. The Socratic method of questioning can help to ease the situation and avoid unnecessary conflict. The dialogue below is an example of how the Socratic questioning method works: 

“I don’t support the Covid-19 vaccination programme.” says a man across the table.

Upon hearing this, you might have the urge to jump into a tirade of attack, but if you restrain yourself and ask...

“What makes you say that?”

He replies, “well, the coronavirus is a hoax, and the government is hiding the real information.”

Again, restraint yourself from attacking your opponent. Ask question. 

“I understand your concern, but independent scientists all over the world have produced mass evidence that proves the benefits of vaccination in protecting entire populations from the virus. What would you say to this?” You enquire.

“To me, the vaccine is not proven safe, so I will only take it when it is 100% safe” he added.

“You are right, a lot of people have raised their concerns over the safety of the vaccines, especially because it was developed more quickly than other vaccines in the past. But there is no medical product or medical intervention, from aspirin to heart surgery that can be guaranteed 100% safe. Do you see other medical products or interventions differently?” you ask politely. 

“I’m not sure, but I still will not recommend it” he replies. 

At this point, his tone has softened a little. 

“I understand that it is a difficult consideration when we are not sure of its risks. But what we do know for sure is that the risk of vaccine-preventable diseases by far outweigh the minimal risks associated with vaccination.” You say with an empathetic nod. 

When you ask questions, you become a neutral party. When you appear as a neutral party, your opponent will not feel attacked, and this will remove your opponents’ natural reaction to defend themselves. 

People who are busy defending themselves are not capable to listen, hence regardless of how substantial and important your arguments are, they will fall on deaf ears. 

By contrast, when you ask the right questions, you will not only create a cooperative argumentative dialogue, but you will have the chance to challenge the underlying presuppositions of your opponent’s arguments and perhaps even change their mind. 

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Men should be taught as if you taught them not

Contributed by 
Natrah Noor 

Centre for English Language and Foundation Education

University of Nottingham Malaysia
Jalan Broga, 43500 Semenyih
Selangor Darul Ehsan

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