Win An Argument By Asking Your Opponent To Explain Their Idea First

Win An Argument By Asking Your Opponent To Explain Their Idea First

When you’re in an argument, it’s only natural to want to explain your position as fast and as often as possible. However, if you want to argue more effectively, ask your opponent to explain their perspective in detail first.

Photo by Daniela Vladimirova.

This method is something of a variation of the steel man tactic. Most people have a tendency to believe that they’re more knowledgeable about a topic simply because they’re more familiar with it. They may have years of experience in a field, but still lack the detailed information required to accurately explain it.

Teachers often discover this flaw when they attempt to explain a topic they thought they knew. To counteract someone’s claims that they “know” a field or subject they might not actually be that knowledgeable on, ask them to explain their position in detail first. As business blog Entrepreneur explains, this is a quick way to find the holes you need to poke at, and it may even make them more likely to accept an alternate viewpoint:

Research published last year on this illusion of understanding shows how the effect might be used to convince others they are wrong. The research team, led by Philip Fernbach, of the University of Colorado, reasoned that the phenomenon might hold as much for political understanding as for things like how toilets work. Perhaps, they figured, people who have strong political opinions would be more open to other viewpoints, if asked to explain exactly how they thought the policy they were advocating would bring about the effects they claimed it would.
…The results were clear. People who provided reasons remained as convinced of their positions as they had been before the experiment. Those who were asked to provide explanations softened their views, and reported a correspondingly larger drop in how they rated their understanding of the issues. People who had previously been strongly for or against carbon emissions trading, for example, tended to became more moderate — ranking themselves as less certain in their support or opposition to the policy.

This strategy has two advantages: for starters, by allowing the other person to speak first, you open them up emotionally. Rather than starting off on a confrontational tone, allowing them to voice their perspective makes them feel more validated and, thus, more willing to listen to outside input.

Secondly, it gives you a better look into how well they understand a subject, and where you can offer specific information that conflicts with their understanding. The more detailed and specific information you can offer contrary to their viewpoint, the easier it may be to persuade them to your side.

The Best Way to Win an Argument [Entrepreneur]


  • This sounds like similar levels of calculative & manipulative techniques applied to conversations & is up there with negging/all that other pick-up artist techniques as far as I’m concerned. Being able to win an argument does not make someone a good leader. Furthermore, arguments don’t NEED to be won. This sort of technique has a place in situations where one needs to be in a position of leadership such as a teacher, of course – however by advertising this sort of thing to the masses is only going to give argumentative people more ammunition to be argumentative in the first place.

    To anybody who decides to use this in everyday life, manipulating people during petty arguments so that you “win” the argument – is only going to make you look like an overbearing douchebag who has no sense of empathy/compromise & will alienate you from your friends & make strangers less likely to want to be friends with you.

    • If you’re speaking about an argument not as a “fight”, but as a discussion of differing viewpoints, it’s basically a debate, or an interactive essay. In an essay you make an argument. You say a thing you think is true and then use evidence-based examples to explain why you think that. It’s persuasive writing. You are trying to persuade an imaginary reader to agree.

      This is essentially the same thing. If you differ on a subject, you ask the person to persuade you. They explain their reasons rationally and with as much evidence as they can muster. Then you can judge if you think their points stand up to scrutiny. there’s no misjudging. There’s no heat or offense based on misunderstanding. It stops the person on the other side from clamming up emotionally and hopefully it does the same for you.

      If anything, i think it’s the best possible thing you can do to stop those stupid arguments between friends that turn into huge fights over small things. If at the end you both think that the other person’s argument isn’t persuasive enough, you can agree to disagree without anger.

  • I disagree, this is not manipulative like those techiques you mentioned. (Although this article presents it as if it is.)

    All you’re really doing here is encouraging the other person to examine their own understanding of the issue. If they actually do have a solid understanding to back up their position you will gain no edge with this tactic. (In fact, you may find yourself more open to changing your position.) If they can’t demonstrate a clear understanding of the issue, they probably should be less adamant about their position anyway.

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