This article is part of the How to Become Powerful series. Read all the 48 Laws of Power.
Any momentary triumph you think you have gained through argument is really a Pyrrhic victory: The resentment and ill will you stir up is stronger and lasts longer than any momentary change of opinion. It is much more powerful to get others to agree with you through your actions, without saying a word. Demonstrate, do not explicate.
The problem with argument is that it creates resentment and offends people. When people agree with you politely, but are really thinking something totally different they are resenting your presence. You will say things in the heat of the argument which will be interpreted as per the other person’s mood and offend them.
1 Comply If You Do Not Know Enough
Take the engineer in Athens receiving orders from his commander Mucianus to send the largest ship’s mast to be used to help in the siege of the town of Pergumus. The engineer argued that what the commander needed was not the larger mast, but the smaller which would be better suited for the task. Mucianus was infuriated and sent for the engineer who continued to try to explain his reasoning for sending the smaller mast. For his disobedience, he was flogged and scourged with rods until he died.
The engineer’s argument went on deaf ears. Nobody cared whether or not it was more prudent to use the smaller mast. The fact of the matter was that a superior gave a command and he decided that by insulting the intelligence of his master by arguing was more important.
2 Satisfy Powerful Ego’s Without Much Sacrifice
When Florence’s mayor, Piero Sorderini told Michelangelo that the nose on his sculpture that he had been commissioned to do of a young David with sling in hand was too big, he did not argue that the nose was just right, Michelangelo merely took the mayor onto the scaffolding and gave the appearance of changing the nose. Sorderini was pleased and no one was offended.
3 Make Symbolic Gestures to Convey Your Point
You’ve heard the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Yet beyond actions, the most powerful persuasion is symbolic. Symbols like a flag or mythic story or monument is something we all understand without exchanging one word. Henry Kissinger, who in 1979 suddenly broke off an intense meeting with the Israelis over the return of the Sinai desert to go sight-seeing to an ancient place in Masada. Masada is where seven thousand Jewish warriors were said to commit mass suicide in A.D. 73 rather than give in to the Roman troops. The Israelis knew that Kissinger’s message was much more than just a warning; it was a significant emotional symbol that made them think far more seriously than any oratorical rhetoric he could have placated.
4 Instill Doubt and Detail
If a co-worker complains about a point then simply apologize and try to understand his issue. Ask them questions that will make them doubt their own point. By instilling doubt in a conversation you can have a more favorable outcome. Say a bunch of technical gobbledygook that further confuses the person complaining, who will then let his guard down because of his own insecurity about his/her knowledge in that area.
5 Offer Something for Nothing
If it is an unhappy customer with a serious problem then offer the customer money back. You can diffuse a situation that can be a PR nightmare. If it is an unhappy co-worker then get cakes/pastries for the team and serve it in a common food area. This will help diffuse any work related negative energy and increase your general liking.