1. Pretend your opponent is really good, even if they aren’t
Nothing sends an argument down the toilet like willfully misunderstanding what the other person is trying to say. Answer the counter argument at it’s strongest points. This makes you look smart because only a person confident in their own case would feel generous enough to help out the other side.
2. Critique the argument, not the person
If you want to lose all your credibility leave your argument on the sidelines and attack the person. Remember when Rush Limbaugh was debating birth control and said a woman who disagreed with him probably just wanted it because she was a slut? It’s going to piss people off, not make them agree with you.
3. Don’t get mad at it
It’s not wrong, despite what traditional rhetoric might say, to give credence to your emotions. You are a human and it’s normal and acceptable to give the avoidance of negative emotions or the appearance of positive emotions weight when making a decision. However, if you’re angry or emotional when having an argument, you need to take a step back. Where is the anger coming from? What are you afraid of happening? Exploring those feelings will help you understand your position, and will strengthen your argument when you return to it.
4. Talk like a human being
Say what you are saying as simply as possible. Your goal isn’t to show the other person how smart you are, it’s to convince the other person to see things your way. They can’t agree with you if they can’t understand you.
5. Google it
If you are debating something with someone, chances are this has already been addressed on the internet ad nauseum. You can practice making a better point by seeing what other people are saying about it.
6. Learn about logical fallacies and avoid them
It’s also bad form to argue something like “It works for the Obamas!” when trying to settle a marriage issue with your spouse. The Obamas are cool people and experts on a lot of stuff, but they aren’t qualified authorities on relationship issues to appeal to. Curl up with Wikipedia’s list of fallacies on a rainy day.
7. Know what’s relevant
If you’re getting in an argument over chat (which seems like a terrible idea to begin with) don’t get sucked into irrelevant minutiae like criticizing grammar. What does that gain you? It’s a cheap shot.
8. Know who your audience is
You don’t need to convince every person who disagrees with you. That makes you look crazy. Can you imagine a musician calling out every journalist who gives them a bad review? It’s really awkward when that happens. Level up bros! You don’t need to respond to trolls. The difference between a person with an earnest competing viewpoint and someone who is trying to get a rise out of you is immediately obvious. Recognize.
9. Have anecdotes attached to your points
Anecdotes don’t make something a more logical argument, rhetorically, but they help explain to another person why they should see something your way. My mom has heard an infinite number of arguments about how gay people are just like regular people, but she didn’t agree until she had a personal friendship with a gay person. There’s reasons besides logic we hold the beliefs we do, personally stories can bridge that gap.