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1 september 2016

3 ways of letting them win (the battle, not the war)

Executive summary: look smart by letting them win

I once wrote a story about how you can get more out of trying to get as wet as possible in the rain, rather than futilely try to stay dry.

In the same vein, I recommend you actively search for arguments you can lose (and execute on those), in order to make friends and influence people long term, rather than just try to win the occasional ad hoc party conversation to feel good in the moment.

Talking point

Length: very short

Topic: A few simple tips for handling arguments, and winning friends and influencing people, at, e.g., parties.

How?: Simply let them win whatever discussion or argument you're having. They winning is not the same as you losing. The truth is still what it is.

Or are you too hot-headed and stupid for that?

angry kitten

Admit you are wrong

Do it swiftly and sincerely - with a smile

Actually, do it even if you aren't sure you're wrong, or if it's kind of a close call.

If you happen to be unequivocally right, the truth will reveal itself sooner or later. But you will never get the chance to correct the know-it-all image you projected if you couldn't admit your mistake.

If you want to be strategic about it, here is level 2:

Let yourself be won over 

There is nothing the other part in a conversation wants more than to persuade you with his or her clever arguments and rhetoric.

Let it happen.

If they are wrong, the worst thing that could happen is you look a little thick in their eyes - but then again, who was the thicker one?

Don't be this guy

In addition, it's often a worthwhile mental exercise to truly try to understand the other side of a discussion. You can't do that if you're busy shouting your own exaggerated arguments.

If they are right, you learned something, and looked smart enough to appreciate their sound logic. In any case, they'll like you. By the way, you're much more likely to be seen as intelligent and pleasant, if you let yourself be 'educated' by the other than if you stubbornly and grumpily stick to your view. I mean, what was your purpose of talking to them in the first place?

First become friends and win their confidence. Then, after many weeks, it's time to spread truths and maybe practice some mansplaining.

Just let it go

(leave them alone)

Unless you are a professional politician, there are almost never any good reasons for pursuing a sensitive argument.

In particular not in a discussion with the friend of a friend at the friend's house party. Nobody benefits from a heated, inebriated and useless WWI style trench warfare. Leave it, change the subject. If needed, clearly state that you won't talk politics, taxes, weight lifting, nutrition/dieting, or whatever the sensitive subject happens to be. Remember to do it with a smile.


I hold certain principles very dearly, not least Ahimsa, the practice of non-violence, and my belief that every man is an island. I am about as open to discussion in these cases as I am regarding the existence of "God", and if I can help it I save that for a sober and quiet talk with a close friend.

Anyway, I have no interest in trying to win over a tax lover, career politician, lefty-commie, ignorant kid or the like that can't see the asymmetry of their beliefs, when we can simply get drunk together, talk about the accelerating technological progress, David Simpson's new book Dawn Of The Singularity, or the unbearable shortness of the skirts at the party.


Summary: not two-faced

No, there is nothing insincere or fork-tongued about this.

Know your purpose. Choose your battles.

If you really want to get to the philosophical bottom of an argument, make sure to pick the right time, venue and person for it. An acquaintance at a dinner party, or worse yet, a stranger at a club, is not a fitting opportunity.

Bonus: begin your answers with acknowledging their points: "You are right. I agree that...", before saying anything remotely contrary to their position.

If you're interested in a deep dive of friend winning tactics, check out my summary of Dale Carnegie's iconic book here.

And here are many more of my book and podcast reviews.

If you liked any of the above and want more, make sure to stay up to date on my writings by signing up for my free newsletter here.

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