Most arguments are anything but intellectual debate, but lawyers need to know how to win an argument just as much as they need to be skilled debaters. Learning how to effectively convey your points in an argument can be crucial to your future career—Americans love to argue, and you must be able to meet your opponent on any playing field.
Arguing is an art and discipline that can be improved with practice
While the vast majority of arguments result in screaming contests, spewed insults and general negativity, arguing is still a form of debate. As such, arguing can be an intellectual exercise and form of education. The discipline and art of an argument can be improved by practicing, listening to constructive criticism and following suggestions.
Suggested improvements and techniques for argument
The below list comprises some of the major areas of suggested improvement in arguing to debate more effectively and persuasively; and hopefully, to win more (if not the majority of) arguments.
- Lower your voice. Keep your voice calm, soft and steady. There is no need to scream, yell, raise your voice or lose your cool. Persuasive, compelling points win arguments—not the arguer with the loudest voice. Instead, speak slightly softer than usual and it will draw audience members in to listen more intently to your points.
- Win your opponent over to your side. Try to find areas of common ground and agreement, at least as a starting point. The statements don’t even have to be related to your ultimate argument theme. This technique will get your opponent to agree with you (initially, at least). It also puts you in a strong competitive position in the argument. It is part of the psychology behind bringing down an opponent’s defenses and convincing her you are allies.
- Do not attack your opponent. Avoid telling your competitor that she is wrong. Instead, demonstrate the incorrectness of her thoughts through solid facts and persuasive arguments. Blanket generalizations of incorrectness without substantiation don’t accomplish anything. Humility in an argument goes a long way.
- Play above board. It’s best not to call names or return fire from your opponent. Resist the temptation to play dirty and assume the higher moral ground. Focus on an attack of arguments, not people. Time, attention spans and patience are limited in arguments and debates, and should be reserved whenever possible for persuasive points, instead of personal attacks or insults.
- Define the basics. Opponents in an argument need to come to agreement on basics and fundamental truths in their subject matter or issue. This is necessary at the onset and is something you will often see Orlando DUI attorneys doing when the time comes to defend their clients. They start with the fundamentals, then move on to points and counter-points, attempting to prove and establish each specific point through logic, rhetoric and wit.
- Stay focused. Remain focused on the subject matter at hand and don’t deviate into tangents. They are just a distracter and waste of time.
- Use silence and questions to your advantage. Rest after you make a strong point. Let your opponent ramble and babble. Silence, when planned and used sparingly, can be a powerful tactic to attract and maintain an audience member or opponent’s attention. Asking questions, even if rhetorical, is part of the Socratic Method. As previously discussed, this method is often used in law school because it allows the professor and classmates to delve deeper into facts and arguments with questions that expose weaknesses and flaws in arguments, logic and conclusions. Questions may even lead to concessions in debate.
Put these tips to use and you are sure to be on your way to winning an argument without resorting to underhanded techniques. In fact, you may even be able to raise the level of discourse between you and the opposition to be more of a debate than an argument.
To read more winning strategies, return for the final installment of Legal Debates and Intelligent Discourses, where we discuss how to triumph in a debate.