5 Things You Shall Never Do in an Argument (If You Want it to Be Effective)

The study found that an overwhelming majority (85%) of employees at all levels experience conflict to some degree. Furthermore, we found that U.S. employees spend 2.8 hours per week dealing with conflict, equating to approximately $359 billion in paid hours in 2008.

Lots of what we call “conflicts” are just discussions that went south. And even though you can’t control how other people act during the argument, you can make your conversations more productive by taking responsibility for the process and adjusting your behavior.

We conduct hundreds of workshops and personal consultations each year and we assembled a ton of information on the subject of effective arguments. And those 5 things are ones that we note as the most common mistakes and our clients admit as the most helpful advice.

5 Things You Shall Never Do in an Argument:

  • 1
    Start the argument without imagining changing your opinion on the subject after it
  • 2
  • 3
    Overwhelm your opponent with a number of your arguments
  • 4
    Express passive aggression
  • 5
    Use examples instead of reasoning
If you want to learn how to create a really strong argumentation structure — here's a tip

Start the Argument Without Imagining Changing Your Opinion on the Subject After it

The first and most common mistake that prevents us from arguing efficiently is our attitude. We usually don’t assess it properly and it affects our communication greatly. That is why we tend to start the argument with the only goal in mind: to change the opinion of the other person. Though it may be our main goal, it closes our minds to the argument for another position. And prevents us from showing empathy and being an active listeners during the conversation.

Without those qualities, we usually become hostile to any ideas that we hear and force our companion to react with defensive behavior. They will notice that you do not really care about what they say and therefore they will also act without respect for your ideas.

So try to carefully assess your mindset and answer the question: am I ready to listen to the arguments that criticize my point of view? Do I want to know what another person thinks? If the answer is “no” it might be better not to start the argument at all and change the flow of the conversation.


Often in a conversation, we attribute our thoughts and feelings to the companion and create an imaginary picture of them. In psychology, this mechanism is called projection. This is a defense mechanism, therefore, it is especially pronounced in complex negotiations and disputes, when we are worried and experience a tremendous set of feelings.
So when we are angry, it is easy to assume that the other person is angry with us (even if there is no evidence)

As a result, this effect makes it difficult for us to understand the thoughts and feelings of another because we have already come up with something for them. In such cases, the dispute cannot be constructive, people do not come into contact, they talk with fictitious images, and just do not hear each other.

Recently, one client of mine, let's call him Bob, told me a story about how difficult it is for him to negotiate with another department. They always come to him, demanding his help on their projects. And he is acting very defensive because helping them might jeopardize his KPIs. This contradiction always causes heated conversations and usually escalates to the management, giving Bob a reputation as a stubborn and hostile person. Through the consultation, we understood that Bob sees his peers as demanding and selfish since they know that his KPIs might be affected if he will help them. Though Bob has never told this concern to another department and never has tried to reassess his KPIs with the management so his team might be more agile in joining new projects.

To prevent falling for Projection, try checking your intuitive reactions to the arguments of your counterpart. We call it “Presumption of the best intentions”. Do you feel threatened or undermined because of what you just heard in an argument? Try to presume that all that was said to you was said with a constructive intention to build a dialogue, point out your mistake, or help you to achieve some good result. Try to act out of this presumption. It might be possible that you are mistaken. But the consequences of a such mistake are much less destructive than presuming the opposite.

Overwhelm Your Opponent with a Number
of Your Arguments

We have to be clear here. Sometimes the quantity of arguments might be a decisive factor in a discussion. But it works only when your audience has little or no interest in the subject of the discussion.

Though the study shows that when the matter is important to all parts, the quality of your arguments plays a much bigger role in persuasion. And quantity might give you quite the opposite effect.

Trying to overwhelm your companion with multiple ideas, each of which they have to comprehend and analyze usually causes a hostile reaction due to several reasons. A person might feel confused and unable to follow the line of argumentation. It causes a fear of being perceived as stupid and incapable. So it’s easier to just reject your position at once so it is an easier way of action. It also might cause a person to say that all that is too complicated so we are unable to find any truth in this conversation. Though this response might not lead to any aggression, it breaks the discussion and prevents you from changing the perspective of another person.

To overcome this, try to choose just one main idea you are going to explain. The one that is the most relevant to this particular person will be the best choice. You might not think that this particular idea is the most important one, but if it is understandable for your target audience it will probably work better.

Let's say you are trying to persuade your boss to start a Diversity and Inclusion program in the company. Though you might think that this is necessary simply because of ethical reasons, your boss might think about new initiatives from a utilitarian point of view. In that case, explaining how similar programs affect business metrics will probably make a greater impact on a discussion.

Express Passive Aggression

Amy Gallo, a Harvard researcher, says that passive-aggressive is the 'absolute worst' amongst difficult people in the work environment. The problem here is that there is a tiny percentage of people who act like that constantly. Most probably we all express ourselves in this way. And though sometimes it feels nice to make a sarcastic comment on the lazy report, you might still be able to recognize your destructive behavior to avoid exercising it at the wrong moment.

In our experience, these are the three most common examples of passive aggression in a workspace communication
1. Stonewalling – sudden breaks of the conversation, silent treatment
2. Deflection – when instead of taking responsibility you are just blaming the person trying to comment on your mistake
3. Sarcastic comments and pretending to agree – are both about trying to mask your disagreement to avoid conflict

Though you might say that first everyone else should stop being passive-aggressive, here are some tips on what you can do not to fall for such a destructive pattern:

1. When you feel like you might make a troubled comment, take a small pause in the conversation to properly consider your feelings.
2. Remind yourself of possible negative consequences: most probably you won’t be heard and your ideas and needs would not be accepted if you communicate them in such a manner
3. Try to act out of curiosity: universal advice for making discussions more productive will also help to avoid passive aggression.

Use Examples instead of Reasoning

This one is usually seen as the most controversial advice. Don’t rush to judge. We are not implying that examples are not applicable in discussions. They serve perfectly as illustrations. But we tend to substitute reasoning with just a single example.

Let’s see some examples!
This is a statement with claim and reason:

Liberal arts is best [claim] because it teaches students independent thinking [reason].

Now we can use an example to explain, what exactly “independent thinking” is:

One student can see how sociological concepts are reflected in a law-making process and study those connections.

Though if we will use an example immediately after the claim it will only confuse our audience.

Not to say that using examples as proofs for your position might lead to a logical fallacy called “Hasty generalization”. One classical example of this is: “since Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates both dropped out of college, and both made billions of dollars, dropping out of college leads to great financial success. And a college degree is unnecessary”. Even this might be true but can not be proven just by two examples.


It might be tough to notice how exactly you act during your heated conversations. So to make sure, try asking your peers for some feedback. Or try working with the coach to not only identify, but learn how to avoid those distracting patterns.

Do you feel insecure in arguments?

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