Here’s How To Win An Argument (Especially When You’re Wrong)

I was coaching an executive on influencing skills this week. I taught him a technique that I have found incredibly powerful. So powerful, you can even use it to great effect, with evil intent.

It’s Evil Week at Lifehacker, which means we’re looking into less-than-seemly methods for getting shit done. We like to think we’re shedding light on these tactics as a way to help you do the opposite, but if you are, in fact, evil, you might find this week unironically helpful. That’s up to you.

I’m not suggesting that you’d do this, but I do love a good debate. It’s possible there may have been times, at a dinner party or two, where I’ve used this approach to sound far more impressive than the merits of my argument deserved.

Let me talk you through it.

Andrew (not his real name) was attending an important meeting. Several of his senior colleagues would be in attendance and he wanted to make a good impression. He knows his stuff, but in the presence of senior executives he can feel intimidated and doesn’t present the best version of himself. He stumbles and fails to present his viewpoint with the same authority and confidence he displays when talking to his own team.

Sound familiar? I suspect we’ve all felt this way at times.

I taught Andrew a technique called PREP, which he reported back to me, worked wonderfully.

It stands for Point, Reason, Example, Point, and it’s a great tool to help you structure an impromptu speech or to answer a tough question when you’re put on the spot.

This is how it works. Think of a situation where you might be required to defend your position or argue your point of view on a critical issue. This might be at your next executive meeting or perhaps in front of a potential client. Or at that next dinner party.

To illustrate, let’s take an extreme example.

Suppose you’re attending your next executive meeting and the CEO puts you on the spot, singling you out, she asks:

‘So, what’s your view on how we’re functioning as a team?’

If ever there was a question guaranteed to provoke an emotional response, this is it. It would be easy to become defensive and evasive in this situation, but that’s not how a top executive would respond.

This is where having the structure of PREP to fall back on can help.

Note –before responding, pause and count to two. We sound ill-considered when we rush straight in. By pausing for two seconds you will sound more considered and it’ll give you the thinking space to provide a concise and structured response using the PREP approach.


I think there is room for us to improve.


The reason I say this is I feel we are tending to operate in silos and this is impacting our ability to cross-market and to service our clients effectively. It is also affecting our ability to communicate a consistent message to the business.


Provide one and preferably two relevant examples to illustrate your point.


So, on that basis, no I don’t believe we are operating effectively as a team right now. I think we have room to improve.

PREP allows you to deliver a mature and reasoned approach, which relies on facts not emotion. Others might not agree with you but you’ve delivered a mature and reasoned response befitting of an executive.

This approach helps you develop what is known as an executive presence. It’s the X factor which differentiates effective executives from the rest. It’s a quality that’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it.

I’ve also used PREP to good effect in client meetings.

Suppose you are pitching your services in the hope of winning a large piece of work. At some stage you have to discuss how you will get a better result than they would through using their internal resources or using one of your competitors?’

Using the PREP approach your response would be structured as follows:

Again, inserting the two second pause before responding, your response might be:


Because we’ll get you the best outcome. (Note: how arrogant this response sounds on its own but when supported by the structure of PREP it takes on a different feel)


The reason I am able to say this with confidence is that we specialise in this area. We have over ten years’ experience in dealing with similar problems for a range of companies in your industry. Our client testimonials attest to the fact that our deep expertise enables us to identify the real issues faster and draw on our previous experience to tailor make solutions that exceed our clients’ expectations.


For example… (at this point quote two relevant examples of similar projects and the impressive outcomes?)


For this reason, I think we are the best people do this project for you.

PREP is a great technique to master if you want to be a more effective communicator. I’ve found that while many people might know the right answer, the prize goes to the person who can best express themselves when it matters most. Effective communication and influencing skills are two of the keys to career success in almost every job.

Practice using PREP over the next few weeks both at work and in social settings.

I’d be keen to hear how you go. Drop me a line.

Rob Davidson is the founder of Australian HR consulting and recruitment company, Davidson.

This story originally appeared on Business Insider.

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