Why prove to a man he is wrong? …You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it you lose it.

– Dale Carnegie

Schools around the world teach children to think and write by constructing logical arguments. TV commentators and politicians debate the issues and try to persuade their audience that they are right. When someone says, You’re right, it means the same as You win! Being right and winning have become ingrained as the goals in any argument, and a common response to objections is the damning phrase, You’re not making sense!

Of course, many arguments are about what is true or false, right or wrong. There is a fact of the matter, a correct answer to the problem, for example in science, engineering, and medicine. But there are a lot of other arguments in which the issue involves human values, or someone’s feelings being hurt. When we try to apply logic in these arguments, telling someone their feelings don’t make sense, the arguments don’t get solved–they get worse. This dynamic plagues many relationships, between partners, spouses, parents, friends, even colleagues and co-workers.

As my husband is fond of pointing out, people in conflict are emotional beings, not rational agents. Of course they construct arguments to rationalize their positions, but their positions actually meet some deeper emotional need. The entire field of conflict resolution is premised on this insight, and that is why it works.  Instead of attacking the position, try to clarify the feelings and find out what deeper needs or values are producing them. When their feelings and needs are validated, people calm down so they can work on building creative solutions together.

Once you give up trying to win the argument, and instead use the techniques of conflict resolution, you will wonder how you survived this long without having a total breakdown. You will stop trying to convince everyone else of their  wrongheadedness. Because, as Benjamin Franklin so charmingly put it, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” And the same goes for women!