How to Win Every Argument: The Definitive Guide

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you want to know how to win every argument? How can you make the best use of your communication skills to persuade people to come to your side?

According to Dale Carnegie, the only way to truly win an argument is by avoiding getting into the argument in the first place. Arguing is typically not a useful tool of communication. With that said, Carnegie does explain how to win every argument with empathy and listening.

Read more to learn how to win every argument using Dale Carnegie’s methods.

How to Win Every Argument

Do you really need to know how to win every argument? According to Dale Carnegie, the best way to win every argument is to avoid them in the first place. Here’s why.

  • What use is telling someone she’s wrong if she didn’t invite your opinion? Is that going to make her like you? Why not let her save face?
    • [This is especially important for people like me who annoyingly want to make sure people “know the truth” and pride themselves on corrections.]
  • Telling someone that she’s wrong will make her feel inferior and hurt her pride. She will resent your triumph, no matter how factually correct you are. This is important to remember when learning how to win every argument.
  • Poetic ways to put it:
    • “Here lies the body of William Jay, Who died maintaining his right of way – He was right, dead right, as he sped along. But he’s just as dead as if he were wrong.”
    • “Better give your path to a dog than be bitten by him in contesting for the right. Even killing the dog would not cure the bite.”
    • Ben Franklin’s friend: “You are impossible…your friends find they enjoy themselves better when you are not around. You know so much that no man can tell you anything…for the effort would lead only to discomfort and hard work. So you are not likely ever to know any more than you do now, which is very little.”
  • Tactics for how to win every argument
    • If someone keeps going on about something you believe is wrong but you want to move on, simply agree and they will run out of steam.
    • Welcome the disagreement. “When two partners always agree, one of them is not necessary.” Be thankful for a point that is brought to your attention, as it’s an opportunity to preempt a mistake.
    • Distrust your first instinctive impression. Be calm and watch out for your angry first reaction.
    • Control your temper. You can measure the size of a person by what makes her angry.
    • Listen first. Give your opponents a chance to talk. 
    • Look for areas of agreement. Try to build bridges of understanding.
    • Apologize for your mistakes. Look for errors and say so.
    • Promise to think over your opponents’ ideas and study them carefully.
    • Thank your opponents sincerely for their interest. Anyone who takes time to disagree with you is interested in the same things you are. Think of them as people who really want to help you.
      • [As PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said of activist investor Nelson Peltz – “we viewed him as free consulting – painful, but free consulting.”
    • Postpone action to give both sides time to think through the problem.
  • Examples
    • A tax consultant under audit felt the inspector had made a mistake. They were at loggerheads until the consultant admitted, “I’ve just had my knowledge in books. You have knowledge in real experience. Sometimes I wish I had a job like yours – I would learn a lot.” The inspector then talked for a long time about his work, and eventually cleared the consultant’s case.

Now that you know how to win every argument, you can put your skills to work and keep following the How to Win Friends and Influence People principles.

How to Win Every Argument: The Definitive Guide

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full How to Win Friends and Influence People summary :

  • The 6 ways to make people like you
  • How you can give feedback to others and improve their behavior
  • An essential checklist for handling arguments in a productive way

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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