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Two years ago, attorney Michael Z. Green led Texas Wesleyan University’s search committee to replace a retiring dean. Faced with the prospect of refereeing a potentially contentious campaign between candidates, Green, who is also a professor of law at the university, sought a more amicable approach.
He convinced committee members to forfeit the process in lieu of a merit-based secret ballot overseen by a non-faculty consultant, with only the victor announced. Despite his successes and being involved in the legal profession for more than 14 years, Green, 43, still seems to think, “Few things are as challenging as arguing a case to a jury of those you deal with on a daily basis–be it an employer, colleague, spouse, or friend.”
In the book How to Win Any Argument: Without Raising Your Voice, Losing Your Cool, or Coming To Blows (Career Press; $14.99), author Robert Mayer writes, “Arguing for a desired outcome is part of every relationship, including our most intimate ones.” The author asserts that regardless of whom you are up against or attempting to convince, winning people over is a cunning tactic that encompasses communication and delivery.
Here are some courtroom-derived techniques to help you garner victories in those make-or-break discussions that may happen outside a court of law, but are just as important to you. Know before you go. Ask yourself: “What is the issue? What point(s) do I want to make about it? What outcome do I want?” By the end of a successful argument, you will have gotten others to see things your way and, in some fashion, in agreement with your proposal, point, or outcome. In his book, Mayer suggests asking for this outcome in a direct manner, early on in the dialogue.
Location, location, location. And tone. “In an era of e-mails and text messages, face-to-face interaction is still the best way to resolve conflicts,” offers Green, who has acted as both arbitrator and mediator for top companies involved in employment disputes. He says ideally you want to make your case within a setting where you have the person’s undivided attention. Green also adds that the best time to debate an issue is as soon as all involved can discuss things calmly. “How you say it matters,” reminds Green. Speak in a respectable manner at a controlled tone. If you or those involved are unable to manage your emotions, ask to continue the discussion at another time.
Be prepared. “Eighty-percent of making your case is preparation,” insists Green. “The remaining 20% is your delivery.” Do your research and review all of the facts surrounding your issue beforehand. Never rely on assumptions or hearsay, but rather present verifiable facts and reliable sources. For instance, if you’re making a case for a raise, discuss your positive performance, increased job responsibility, and any provisions in your job contract that entitle you to a salary increase.
Manage your strengths and weaknesses. “Your argument, no matter how great it is, is bound to meet resistance,” writes Mayer. To help combat this, anticipate questions as