3 steps to help you win an argument, especially on social media


For a long time, I struggled with the ability to tell others why they shouldn’t argue with people, especially on the internet. I’m not saying to turn the other cheek or run away from a confrontation — what I was trying to say is that it’s usually not worth the time and energy and, many times, the heartache.

Then I came across some posts from John Carlton, a fellow marketer and extraordinary copywriter. His steps for winning an argument are below or on his Facebook page. I’m not going to copy his stuff word for word — you should go read it. But I am going to give it my perspective for agriculture.

Step 1: Never argue back, when your goal is persuasion

This is probably the toughest thing to do. Almost everyone is hardwired to defend their positions and strike back if they feel their opinions are threatened.

But the important thing (especially online) is that this is a losing proposition. No one will win in this environment — what will happen is that everyone will see the back-and-forth shouting match going on until it escalates into name calling. I’m sure you’ve seen this hundreds of times on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. … It’s even worse when people’s identities are anonymous.

I love what John says about how their minds will change — they WILL change their minds, but not because you demolished their belief system with logic and debate tactics. They will change because of an internal epiphany that is akin to death/rebirth.

So, the main lesson is “don’t fight back” unless you just want the adrenaline rush and don’t care if this person will hate you and your cause.

Step 2: Define what “winning” means to you

What are you trying to accomplish and why in the world did you engage this person in the first place? You need to answer this immediately. If there is no larger goal in mind, then step away and drop the conversation.

In social media, you need to remember that you are discussing this topic in front of an audience — theirs and yours. If I engage someone with an opposing viewpoint, I want to persuade them into doing something that is a “win” for me.

Here’s an example. At a previous job, I was constantly bickering with a department over its approvals of tools I needed for my team. After a few backroom arguments (which I believed I won but in reality didn’t get us any closer to getting the tools), I decided to change my tactics. My goal was getting the tools and not winning the arguments. So, my new tactic was (which is the next step) to agree with them and redirect to what I wanted.

I’ll explain what happened after the next step from John.

Step 3: Use “yes, and” to reframe for the “win”

This is what John says about the last step in winning an argument. You disarm anger and reframe the context (so you’re not wallowing in the stuck-in-one-place psychological wastelands that stubborn people like to fight in), which will allow you to “come in through a side door.”

You don’t engage head-on, you ignore irrationality, and because you’re so clear on your goal, you take your ego out of it. Use the old improv theater tactic of never being negative yourself — say ‘Yes … AND …’ while moving toward the discussion you want to have.

You win because you reframed the argument and you get what you want. Remember, if there is nothing you really want from the person, then don’t argue. But if this person has something you want (influence, budget, tools, etc.), then you need to use persuasion and not argue.

So, here’s what happened in my example. Instead of arguing, I started to agree with the other department. “Yes, I agree these tools are a bit out of range for our normal budget, and yes, the security is questionable. I understand you have a class on the dangers of these tools. How about my co-workers attend these classes, become experts and advocates for these tools? They can become someone you can rely on to back you up if other people want these tools. But, they really need to have access to these tools, so they can become experts.” The department head thought about it and gave us the access we needed.

So how does this work in ag?

Imagine if a friend of a friend (not an activist) says this on social media:

“I really hate how big farms have become. There’s no way those cows are happy being on a farm like that.”

If you go on the defense, you might reply with:

“Big farms are not the problem. I work on a big farm and we take great care of our cows.”

This will start an argument because you attacked their knowledge base.

If you want to persuade them, here’s how it could change:

“I really hate how big farms have become. There’s no way those cows are happy being on a farm like that.”

“Yes, I can see how this might be perception. Have you been to a large farm?”

“No, but I’ve seen them online.”

“Yeah, I can definitely see how you formed that opinion about large farms. I actually work on a large farm and we treat our animals very well. In fact, animal care is one of our top priorities because healthy cows produce high-quality milk for you. And that’s our main goal here at BLANK FARMS. We want you to get the best quality milk.”

“Really? But I’ve seen some really bad stuff happen in those videos.”

“Well, I don’t know what happened on those videos, but I can show you videos of our cow care. We have a dairy nutritionist who helps us give them the best nutrition. We do herd checks all the time and have our large animal veterinarian on the farm every month. We have monitors on the cows (kinda like a FitBit) to track their movements. The cows also have sand beds for them to lay in. Our cows really like the sand bedding.”

Will it work all the time? No, probably not, but it gets easy over time. One thing that helps me is to think of the other person as a friendly relative who I don’t want to hurt or have them become upset with me. It helps with my tone and my patience. Persuading people you like will help you stay with it.

Now, do I do this all the time? Nope. Do I still argue? Yep.

Because I’m human and I don’t always control my emotions as well as I should. But I do want you to understand that arguing passionately very rarely convinces anyone.

If you really want to persuade someone then I suggest you use John’s steps above. And, of course, if you want to argue against me, feel free. I’m up for it. “Yes, I agree with you … AND …”

What do you think about winning an argument?

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