How to Win Informal Arguments and Debates

How to Win Informal Arguments and Debates

Skilled debating is an art. In order to win arguments and convince others of your views, you must understand the basic components of logic, psychology, and effective communication.


  1. Decide on a position you would like to argue for, and become well-informed about that position. Ideally, this will be something you really believe in, because it is much easier to make convincing arguments for ideas you are enthusiastic about. Make sure you understand not only your own position, but the opposing position as well. This will allow you to anticipate objections and respond more effectively.
  2. Find someone to debate with. If you are reading this article, it’s likely that you already have someone in mind. Before proceeding, however, you should familiarize yourself with the concept of "impossible people." In order to have any chance of winning a debate or accomplishing anything productive, you need to be arguing with someone who is basically reasonable. Otherwise, save yourself the trouble and find someone more reasonable to debate with.
  3. Begin by stating a thesis. This is just a brief statement of your position and your reasons for holding that position.
    • Example: You might say "I believe the Moon was once of a part of the Earth for the following reasons," followed by a quick summary of why you believe that. Try to use evidence-based premises, if possible. For example, "Geological data shows that the Moon’s rocks are quite similar to those found in Earth’s early history" is much better than "The Moon being blasted out into space by a collision is just a really cool idea."
  4. Respond to objections. In most cases, your opponent will respond to your thesis by objecting to one or more of your premises, which are the reasons you have given to support your position. If you are well-informed about your position, most of the objections should already be familiar to you. Use logic and evidence to show your opponent why his or her objections do not work. You can refute (dispose of) objections by two major routes: showing that the evidence does not support them, or exposing a logical flaw in the premise of the objection.
    • To refute the idea that refined white bread is healthy because it is processed, you might state that a study of rats fed a diet of white bread alone all died (which is true, incidentally). This would be an evidence-based response.
    • To make a logic-based response, you might state that "The fact that white bread is processed does not mean it is healthy. There is no established link between highly processed food and better health, so your objection does not follow from your premises."
  5. Build on your opponent’s objections. If possible, don’t stop at refuting them – turn them around and use them against your opponent’s position.
    • Example: Your thesis might be that lab rats should not be used in painful experiments. Your opponent might object that rats cannot experience pain in the same way humans can. You might use evidence to refute this objection by referring to studies which show the same type of brain and nervous system function in rats and humans under stress. Instead of stopping there, show your opponent how his or her attempted objection actually supports your position. Continuing the example given here, you might say something like "since you have made the issue of the ability to feel pain the basis of your objection, doesn’t the evidence I’ve shown you suggest that performing experiments on lab animals is unethical?"
  6. Attempt to resolve each point before moving ahead to the next issue. If there are unresolved points about which you and your opponent cannot agree, it will be difficult to accomplish anything productive, because the unresolved points will continue to come up over and over again. Ultimately, this will lead to a situation where there is no choice but to "agree to disagree," which is usually not an ideal outcome.
  7. Remain calm, rational, and reasonable at all times. You may feel that your opponent is totally failing to understand your position, but if you become too agitated, you opponent will take this as a sign of weakness and conclude that he or she has you on the ropes. Rather than helping to convince your opponent, shouting and/or insulting remarks will only serve to make them more confident in their position. Emotional behavior is no substitute for rational arguments.
  8. Have patience. As long as both you and your opponent are debating in a reasonable manner, be willing to spend some time explaining your position and your premises. It is not easy to change someone else’s mind. There are a variety of reasons for this, but the most powerful among them is the simple fact that no one enjoys discovering that they are mistaken. It’s not a particularly easy thing to accept, so be patient. You won’t convince them with your very first point.
  9. Use effective speech and grammar. You don’t need to pretend you are a university professor, but if you want to be effective and convincing, you should use decent English. Don’t try to use big words in order to sound more intelligent, because most people can see through such an act. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to use the right word for the task. If a big word is called for, use it. Most importantly, try to speak (or write) clearly and confidently. Make your point using no more and no fewer words than you need.
  10. Be willing to lose. A skilled dialectician (debater or arguer) understands that sometimes, the other guy’s arguments will simply be stronger than one’s own. If you find yourself cornered and unable to refute an opponent’s points, be honest and reasonable enough to concede defeat. Do not become stubbornly determined to keep objecting even after you have been proven wrong (that would make you an "impossible person!)". Anyone who has engaged in debate regularly has experienced a number of losses. Congratulate your opponent, learn from your mistakes, and move on. Every experience (win or lose) makes you better equipped for your next encounter.
  11. Don’t take pride in being right (or winning the debate). It makes it easier for your adversary to admit to being wrong which, in an informal clash of opinions, whould be your primary goal.



  • The rule of thumb to remember is that your own desire to believe something or your own opinion about how great the belief is will not convince anyone else. To do that, you need logic and evidence.
  • Become familiar with how logic works. Being able to argue logically will make you very effective at pointing out the flaws and contradictions in your opponent’s objections. You don’t have to take a formal logic course or memorize logical notation, as long as you understand the basic principles of logic and the logical fallacies (arguments that have a logical flaw which makes them inconsistent or self-contradictory). An introduction to logical fallacies is linked below.
  • Always be happy to lose. Never have bad sportsmanship.

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