I was the agent on duty and the woman in front of me was livid, accusing the FBI of harassment and invasion of privacy. As the duty agent, it was my responsibility to listen to her claims and determine whether they had merit or not.
It quickly became evident that she was working for an individual who had recently been indicted for money laundering and racketeering. So yes, the FBI was interviewing people to get a better idea of who else might be involved. Logically, that net would be cast wide.
Too wide for the likes of the woman determined to battle it out with me in the interview room.
FBI agents are rarely described as warm and fluffy, but neither are they the snarly, snarky shoot-from-the-hip of investigators often depicted on TV and in the movies. The reason is simple: there is a technique to winning an argument or calming down an individual to the point where they not only see reason, but agree to cooperate with an FBI investigation.
There are many types of warfare, and all of them involve some type of escalation between opposing opinions and points of view. Sun Tzu wrote an ancient Chinese treatise called “The Art of War.” His strategies could also be applied to business tactics today:
- “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
- “To fight and conquer in all our battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”
- “He who knows when he can fight and when he cannot will be victorious.”
An argument usually includes heated conversation, but in the business world it can also be a set of reasons aimed at persuading others to take a particular action or adopt an idea.
Either way, here are 11 FBI tactics on how to win an argument and get your point across:
1. Do Not Attack
Attacking someone else’s idea puts them into a fight-or-flight mindset.
Remember the advice of Sun Tzu—break down the enemy’s resistance without fighting.
2. Start Off Friendly
When you make your point in a very friendly manner, you automatically disarm others. It also keeps them from going for a defensive stance or position.
3. Show Respect
Make an effort to respect the other person’s point of view, no matter how ridiculous it sounds to you.
4. Ask Open-Ended Questions
These type of questions allow the other person to explain themselves and not box them into a “right or wrong” answer. It encourages interaction and discussions.
5. Argue The Facts
The single worst thing you can do during an argument is base your conversation around your feelings alone. Present the facts but use mental toughness to control your emotions.
Strong minds have emotional intelligence. This means they can control their emotions instead of letting their emotions control them.
6. Ask How, Not Why
Asking “how” their statement is right is not freighted with as much emotion as asking them “why” it is right. When someone tells you why they are right and you are wrong, it will make them more confident in their convictions. Asking them how will force them out of their emotional, limbic brain system and into their thinking, cerebral brain.
One of the most effective ways to defang an argument in its tracks is to say, “You are right.” This does not mean you are forfeiting your point of view, but it does mean that you are acknowledging that they have a valid point.
8. Stay on Point
When emotions are high, logic is thrown out the window. Do not be that person! Do not respond to irrational and/or emotional appeals of the other person, either, especially if they threaten to derail the main point of the conversation.
If needed, you can say, “Interesting point and we can talk about that later, but right now we’re discussing…”
9. Use Data
When talking, writing, or consulting about how to develop a mentally tough mind that can create breakthroughs, I back up my assertions with neuroscience data. This is not just me peddling a bunch of bullsh*t to pay my mortgage.
If you want to be taken seriously, use information that has credibility and backed by research.
10. Do Not Let It Escalate
In his book, The Political Brain, Drew Westen writes that when people see or hear information that conflicts with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic go dormant. And the parts of the brain that regulate hostile attacks light up.
When an arguments start, persuasion stops. It devolves into a fight, and that brings another frame of mind to the situation. Suddenly, no one cares who is right or wrong and that is a sure way to fail.
11. Appeal To Higher Logic
Try appealing to worthy motives or universal truths that are hard to dispute.
This is what ultimately worked with the irate woman in the FBI interview room. I agreed that it was unpleasant to have the FBI snooping around and asking questions about her. But, once I explained the higher logic of how the FBI was trying to identify accomplices involved in her boss’s racketeering scheme, she agreed that only by interviewing people “in the know” would law enforcement be able to gather the evidence needed.
She eventually became an FBI informant.
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