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Yale research: Highly successful people argue differently

By | Natasha Piñon |

Instead of trying to “win” every argument you find yourself in, you could have more success if you look at arguments as opportunities to learn and grow.

That’s according to Matthew Fisher, a psychologist and marketing professor at Southern Methodist University, who co-authored a 2016 study while at Yale University on the benefits of “arguing to learn.” “Being willing to hear out other perspectives and engage in dialogue that isn’t simply meant to convince the other person you’re right can lead to all sorts of unexpected insights,” Fisher tells CNBC Make It.

In fact, according to Fisher, keeping an open mind during an argument not only helps you learn new things, it can also help you land on the correct answer and make others more receptive to your point of view.

What is ‘arguing to win’?

Fisher and his fellow researchers on the 2016 study set out to determine if someone’s approach to arguments can impact how they understand the nature of truth when it comes to a given debate topic. 

The setup was simple: Participants had to debate hot-button topics in an online chatroom. One group was instructed to adopt a competitive mentality in order to “win” the argument, while the other group was told to “argue to learn.” 

An “arguing to learn” mentality rests in viewing contentious conversations as collaborative exchanges that can deepen your understanding of a given topic, rather than battles to be won. 

That mentality can hold the key to success: Research shows open-minded people perceive the world around them differently, leading to an increase in happiness and creativity. 

Fisher hypothesized that those in the “arguing to learn” group would be less likely to believe there was a single, set answer to the debate at hand — and the study confirmed his theory. 

People who were “arguing to win” took a hard line and only saw one right answer, while those who “argued to learn” were more likely to accept opinions that were different from their own. 

Arguing to learn is ultimately a mentality, not a single set of tactics, and the key to doing it effectively rests on understanding why it matters in the first place.

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