War doesn't determine who is Right, only who is Left

Winning an argument or a debate is a matter of communication skills rather than owning the truth. I'm gradually learning this truth as I genuinely excel in being right while being perceived as wrong.

War doesn't determine who is Right, only who is Left
Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm / Unsplash

My boss doesn't have much technical skill in Software Engineering, so he's often wrong about technical details, and I'm often right.

But he has a winning point:

War doesn't determine who is right, only who is left.
– The Montreal Star

Winning an argument or a debate is a matter of communication skills rather than owning the truth. I'm gradually learning this truth, for I genuinely excel in being right while being perceived to be wrong.


nothing personal, it's just business

In our modern world, martyrdom is akin to getting involved in arguments with more powerful parties that are against you. Or against your version of the truth.

Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.
– NOT Mark Twain

I want to take liberty and propose a reviewed version of this famous quote:

Never argue with POWERFUL people, they will drag you UP to their level and beat you with experience.
– Myself, after a tough week

Recap so far:

  1. Losing it to powerful people prevents you from reaching your goals
  2. Debating with powerful people is seldom about contents,
    but rather about their rhetoric
  3. Powerful people know points n.1 and n.2
    (how do you think they became powerful in the first place?)
Powerful People got to their power by learning and practicing this kind of wisdom. Ok, some of them have a huge birth advantage over the Average Joe. Still, one doesn't go far without learning Upward Management. Believe me, I'm struggling with this first-person!

Fight or Flight

When people go assertive on me, my brain switches into I show you who's boss mode:

  • I stop listening and beget counterattacks
  • My body language switches into "foot in the door" mode
  • I try to seize the moment to interrupt so to make my point
  • My heart races, and my blood pressure spikes

But my sparring partner is likely doing the same!

Both of us are in fighting mode.
We see red and want to bite.


and in war, the most powerful side wins

In this situation, contents cease to be relevant as none is really listening nor trying to understand the other's point of view.

– It happens to me every day –
Can we do something about it?

Play fight and have fun
Photo by Collins Lesulie / Unsplash

Looting a Burning House

Looting a Burning House is part of the Chinese's 36 Stratagems wisdom.

It unethically suggests attacking an enemy when they are facing internal troubles, for they will be weak and easier to overcome.

I'm not suggesting setting your boss' house on fire. That would be rather criminal. But I tell you: practice the art of Active Listening to achieve a similar result.


and listen attentively

Not only will you find out helpful information to stand your ground, but it will also tire her down and increase your chances to achieve knockout by exhaustion (of arguments).

Active Listening empowers you by:

  • letting your counterpart vent out anything they need to say
  • once they are done, they have nothing to do but listen
    (this is the "looting a burning house" part)
  • meanwhile, you collected intel around their motivations and feelings
  • when you talk, you ensure attention to your points
The main goal of Active Listening is to hear out all the points your opponent has to make. Sometimes, you need to extract those points by actively questioning and showing deep interest even in stuff that they are not (yet) willing to say. Put your investigator hat on and dig deep with your partner.

This is the theory anyway.
Reality is often tougher than it appears in rear mirrors.

Rear view mirror Snæfellsjökull
Photo by Kalle Kortelainen / Unsplash

I'll start on Monday!

In my personal experience, Active Listening is like dieting:

  • you know how it works
  • you know you need it
  • – but you start tomorrow –

It's just scary, right?

Years have passed since I started to practice Active Communication, I'm slowly getting better at it, but I haven't yet found a simple switch to turn on.

Writing my thoughts in my blog – writing this article – helps me reflect on my behavior, progress, and setbacks.

I struggle and fight with my boss on a daily basis. He's honestly trying to help me, and he hasn't fired me – nor I quit – so far. We also have fun working together. That's because this kind of practice... takes practice. It's not a black-or-white kind of thing. There are fifty shades of gray and then some color to it. Damn metaphors, they always sound cheesy no matter what.

You can try to do the same, but please, start today!