Learn How to Stop Debating—and Start Persuading

Noelle Ihli

Learn How to Stop Debating—and Start Persuading 

Think Again Author Adam Grant Shares Seven Tips for More Effective Persuasion and Negotiation in the Workplace 

While debate teams earn trophies in high school competitions, debates in the workplace rarely lead to clear winners. Instead, in most cases, the result is two opposing parties further entrenched in their own opinions.

Social psychologists know that debating facts rarely changes hearts and minds. So what does? 


Keep reading to learn Adam Grant’s seven tips for mastering this powerful tool of negotiation and influence.    

The Heart of Persuasion

Most people think persuasion is convincing another person to change their mind, but Grant encourages a different approach. In his book, he reveals the secret that skillful negotiators already know: effective persuasion isn’t about strong-arming someone into a new perspective— it’s about establishing common ground, listening to their viewpoint, then seeking out ideas that resonate with both of you.

Let’s say you’re locked in a battle with a coworker over an “ideal” temperature for the office thermostat. First, acknowledge that you share the goal of making your office mates as comfortable as possible. Next, listen attentively to your coworker while they explain the reasoning behind their proposed solution.

Finally, use Grant’s seven tips for effective persuasion to make your case like a pro. 

Seven Tips for More Effective Persuasion

Learning these techniques takes practice and patience. But mastering them is time well spent. They’ll help you turn fruitless debates into effective negotiations: 

  1. Accept Their Strongest Point Early, Poke Holes Later

While listening to the other person’s perspective, identify their strongest point and acknowledge it. This approach reassures the other person that you understand the heart of their position and can keep them from becoming defensive. If you want to refute their key argument, circle back after you’ve shared your perspective. 

  1. Moderate Your Confidence

Confidence is your ally, but not when taken to extremes. Research shows that people are more likely to trust someone who doesn’t take a firm stance on every single issue.  Experts have found that a “medium” level of confidence broadcasts flexibility and open-mindedness—assets in any debate.

  1. Admit Uncertainty Where Warranted

If you’re unsure about some aspect of the discussion, don’t be afraid to admit your knowledge gap or ambivalence. This willingness to show humility and honesty in the conversation helps prove you are sincere and straightforward in any claims you make. 

  1. Ask Questions

Try to understand the other person’s stance by asking questions about proposed plans or solutions. These questions should be open-ended, specific, and non-judgmental. Ask these questions to gain more insight and encourage the other person to engage with new ideas that might prompt a shift in perspective.

  1. Choose Two Solid Points

It can be tempting to offer a sweeping overview of every point supporting your perspective. Unfortunately, this “fire-hydrant” approach can overwhelm the other person and dilute your argument. Instead, choose two main points and build a case around them. 

  1. Connect Your Points

Make sure to link your two primary points. For example, if an office poll revealed that 80% of employees prefer the thermostat to be set at 68 degrees during the winter, share that finding along with a statistic that lower temperatures waste less electricity.

  1. Cite Relatable Sources

Rather than citing authoritative and impressive-sounding sources, choose data closer to your audience. For example, you might share a memo from your boss about the importance of conserving electricity during the winter months instead of a statistic from the new Bill Gates book on climate science. 

Grant’s approach to persuasion and negotiation won’t always guarantee the outcome you want, but it will help you negotiate your perspective in a productive and highly effective way.

Have you tried Grant’s approach to persuasion? What’s one tip you would add for productive negotiation and persuasion? Share it with us on Twitter using #ThinkAgain

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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