Influence: How to argue

One of the principle problems we face in an argument is that we get caught up in a “win at all costs” mindset. In other words, our survival brain takes over and we become driven by protecting territory and less concerned with achieving a successful outcome.

However, if we want to be more effective, persuasive and influential in heated conversations and negotiations, we need to learn to think Selfish, Scared and Stupid™.

Now this may sound counter intuitive, but in fact, these are the core drivers that run us at a mostly subconscious level, and in fact have contributed to our capacity to survive and thrive as a species. Humanity’s success has largely been due to the fact that we all approach the world through a lens of looking out for #1, mitigating risk and trying to keep things as simple and easy as possible.

The problem is, we don’t like to admit it. It just doesn’t sound good does it? So we try to cover these biases up and tend not to be too aware of our “weak-points” and likewise assume everyone else is as selfless, brave and brilliant as they’re pretending to be too.

By accepting that we are all Selfish, Scared and Stupid™, not only do we become more self-aware, we also tend to be more others-aware – and that is the point.

So what does thinking Selfish, Scared & Stupid™ look like in an argument?

1. Think Selfish

Just as you’re wondering “What’s in it for you”, so are they. However, by accepting that you are both driven by selfishness, you’re free to ask an alternative question, “What’s in it for them?” In other words, by framing your argument in terms of what they get out of agreeing with you and even accepting your position, they start to see that they have something to gain from by being a little more flexible on their side. If it’s all about you, then why would someone who is essentially selfish ever want to see your side (or you theirs for that matter).

2. Think Scared

The problem with many arguments is that the argument you’re having is not the argument you’re really having. So we all need to be aware of what they have to lose beyond just an argument. Is their social status or reputation at risk? Is there money involved or a friendship or professional loyalty? The fear of these loses can keep someone completely entrenched in their position so we need to understand that just as we fear losing, so do they. So consider how can you reduce this loss and risk?

3. Think Stupid

Make your self easy to agree with. Most of us do the opposite in an argument. In the heat of a disagreement or negotiation, many of us tend to become so obnoxious, enraged or smug that those arguing with us may choose to stay in the argument simply out of spite. So it’s critical that we become less difficult to agree with if we want to persuade others to our side of the fence.

Whilst thinking Selfish, Scared and Stupid™ sounds counter intuitive and more like the kind of thing that starts arguments, it’s worth remembering that accepting human nature and working with it, actually offers us a greater chance of success than fighting against it. Of course, you may choose to disagree…

Buy Selfish Scared & Stupid™ here.

DAN GREGORY & KIERAN FLANAGAN