How to Argue Effectively

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It’s an all too typical Saturday night experience. You and some mates have decided to go to the cinema but cannot agree on which film to see. What started as a discussion soon becomes an argument. You are desperate to see the new Ben Stiller film and consider bribing or manipulating your friends somehow to agree to your choice. But then you remember that they are your friends, not people you should bribe or manipulate. So how do you argue effectively with your friends, so they willingly come along to see the movie of your choice?

The answer is persuasion. The ability to persuade is important because without it, intellectual evolution would be stunted, and progress would come only through manipulation, bribery or coercion.

The following three steps will help you to argue more effectively, without manipulation, bribery or coercion.

See Also: Use These 10 Science-Backed Tactics to Win Any Argument

1. Establish The True Argument

Your argument will be more effective if it is clear what you are arguing about. For example, what seems to be a simple argument about which music to play at a party could be an argument about:

  • The kind of party it is
  • Who the party is for
  • Who the music is for
  • The impact of the music on people attending the party
  • The merits of one kind of music over another

Perception is key: if both parties perceive the argument differently, the outcome won’t be a good one.

To give another example, the issue of the renewal of Trident could be framed as a defence issue. If this is the case people’s opinions will be based on their views about threats to security and the effectiveness of Trident in thwarting any threats.

But the Trident issue could also be presented as a cost issue, in which case the same people might take a different stand. The corresponding questions of “Should we aim to deter nuclear attacks” and “Are nuclear weapons the key priority for our spending” will result in different outcomes.

It is very common to find ourselves ‘arguing about arguments’, whereby we invest considerable time and effort refuting falsehoods. The most important thing is to be clear what the argument is about in the first place.

2. Determine The “Stasis” Of Your Argument

The Romans used the term “stasis” to describe the point or anchor around which an argument could or should turn. There are four kinds of stasis


The fact is simply that: something either is or is not the case. So when your neighbour accuses you of stealing her bin, you could refute her claim using a fact: you were on holiday in Ibiza at the time of the alleged offence, etc.


Perhaps you did take your neighbour’s rubbish bin, and you cannot deny it. Your argument could then be one of “definition”. You took the bin thinking it was yours, but it was a genuine mistake, not theft.


You can make the argument one of ’quality’ by appealing to a higher moral ground. You admit the crime, but give a true and noble reason for committing that crime. For example, there has been a recent influx of urban foxes, and the first thing they do is to go for the bins, scattering litter across people’s drives. Using the earlier example of the Ben Stiller film, you could simply tell your friends that it is the last day the film is showing and you have been desperate to see the film. You could also suggest seeing their choices at another time.


This final stasis refers to ‘jurisdiction’: whether the argument can be legitimately addressed. When we hear that the government should not tell small businesses who they should or should not employ, that is using the stasis of "place". This stasis is often used reactively, to fend off further arguments.

3. Use Reliable "Witnesses"

Witnesses are simply examples or anecdotes/stories that lend credence to your argument. They are particularly useful when seeking to add a ’human element’ to your argument and are used in everyday public and political argument. To work well, witnesses must enhance, not supplant your main argument. When quoting an authority, i.e. someone with a recognised standing, you are using a witness and their views can add real weight to your argument.

It is important to use a witness that your opponent respects and will evaluate positively or your witness will have little impact. Stories can also be used as witnesses - they provide examples of reality that hint at the existence of an underlying rule at work to which your opponent should pay heed. Any stories used should fit emotionally with the tone of your argument and not substitute for it.

Do you have your own ideas on how to argue effectively? Let us know in the comments box below...