How To Argue And Win Every Time (Gerry Spence)

Gerry Spence is one of the most successful trial lawyers in American history; his portfolio includes the Karen Silkwood case, the defense of Imelda Marcos on racketeering charges and numerous others. He has not lost a civil case since 1969 and has never lost a criminal trial by jury.

“How to Argue and Win Every Time” is a great read and taught me a lot not only about having an argument, but about communication. When we want to win an argument, we don’t throw verbal rocks at your “opponent”. We open the other person up to our side of the story and enable him to join us in our key arguments (or at least meet us halfway). That way, we end up with a mutually beneficial situation, a “win-win”.

The following video is from a mock trial with Gerry Spence.



Spence divides How to Argue and Win Every Time into three main parts.
In the first part, he talks about mindset and the basics of communication – storytelling, body language, tonality and the choice of words.
In the second part,  we use these tools to structure a winning argument.
In the third part, we apply these principles to the most common scenarios in real life – the family and the workplace.

In “Bachelor Pad Economics“, Aaron Clarey makes the case to use truth and facts for our arguments. Gerry Spence gives us the tools to open the other side to our arguments.

Since the fundamentals of a successful argument are rooted in communication, this book is useful beyond the courtroom:

1. for anyone who wants to learn more about storytelling;
2. for anyone who wants to develop his charisma;
3. for anyone who wants to learn about emotional honesty.
Taking the “jump”, the leap of faith on chances life throws at him is a big part of the book.
We learn how to communicate with others… and ultimately that begins and ends within ourselves.

These are the chapters of How to Argue and Win Every Time.

1. Readying ourselves to win

–  Why argue? Opening the doors, freeing the psyche.
–  When to argue? Winning without arguing.
–  Understanding power. The pistol that fires into both directions.
–  The incredible power of credibility. Standing naked.
–  The power of listening. Hearing the person behind the noise.
–  The power of prejudice. Examining the garment
, bleaching the stain.
–  The power of words. Gilding the soliloquy.

Having put down the foundation, Spence then shows us how to use these tools to make your case.

2. Delivering the winning argument.

–  Structuring the winning argument. Building the house the wolf can’t blow down.
–  Opening them up. Bridging the gap to be heard.
–  How to deliver the winning argument. Releasing the sound and the fury.
–  The magical argument. Arguing out of the heart zone.
–  The unbeatable power argument. Delivering the knockout.

The book ends with several examples how to apply what we learnt.

3. Arguments in Love and War.

–  Arguing in the love relationship. Love and War.
–  Arguing with kids. Also Love and War.
–  Arguing at the Workplace. Engaging the Corporate Cyclops, Surviving the Governmental Leviathan.
–  Arguing for Justice. Understanding the Responsibility of Being.

You can buy How to Argue and Win Every Time here.

We can easily think of more examples. Dating. Self-talk and mindset affirmations. Writing books, for we should always know what makes our story different from all the others out there.

This is the most important part of this book – we learn how to Sing With Our Own Voice.

The Lock and the Key

But how can we make a successful argument? Spence lists our potential concerns in form of a “lock and key” structure throughout the book. We really are our own worst enemies. We are locking ourselves into a closet from which we can’t seem to escape; yet, the key that allows us to walk out of the closet is within us – all the time.
Spence shows us how to find it – and thus allows us to relate a lot of the content in his book to our own life.

Indeed, he is constantly citing examples form his own career and family life, which adds an additional layer of identification for the reader.


The Lock: If only I could be like the great orators, at least like the preachers, at least like the guy next door who can talk his way into or out of anything – but I have no talent for argument.
The Key: You have a power of your own that no one else can ever match.

The Lock: I am not a powerful person. Those I face are always more powerful than I am. How can I win against them?
The Key: All power, yours and theirs, is yours.

The Lock: Arguing at work can be like hollering at the time clock – or, worse, pulling the tail of a tiger.
The Key: Like any game, one cannot play the corporate game successfully without understanding the game.


Why argue? Opening the doors, freeing the psyche.

It is often fear that holds us back from arguing. Fear we won’t be able to make a good argument, fear we will cause trouble and fear we may suffer the pain of losing. We think that no one should listen to us unless we are one of the great orators. We feel inadequate to stand up to the authority of others.

We’d much rather get along and take the easy way out, just agreeing with the other person.

And indeed, no one will give us permission to argue. We can only give it to ourselves. When we do, we can take our fear and turn it into power, thus make it our ally.

We argue because we have a power of our own that no one else could ever match.


When to Argue? Winning Without Arguing.

We want to “win” our arguments. But winning does not automatically mean “getting our will”.

Winning is getting what we want, which often includes assisting others getting what they want.

For some, argument is a means to advance their own cause. These people are structurally weak, so they must prove their mere existence via argument. In effect, they do not argue but disagree.
Others argue just to hear their own voice, or out of a neurotic fixation.

Spence argues that the best lawyers and communicators – must learn to argue the same way a surgeon must learn to use the scalpel.

Sometimes the best arguments are silent.
–  when we wait patiently for the other person’s outburst to clear, so he or she can see our side of the argument
–  when we permit the Other to talk himself out of the argument.
–  when we just endure, aligning ourselves with the power of silence.
This reminds me of a book by Michael Ende I recently introduced. The heroine of the story, Momo, has an incredible talent just listening to people. In one example, two friends argue with each other while Momo just sits and listens. Eventually the friends see that they are fighting about nonsense and make peace with each other.

Therefore, learning when to argue is as important to winning as learning how to argue.


Understanding Power. The Pistol that Fires in Both Directions.

This is probably the most important chapter of the book.

Power is first an idea, a perception. The power we fear is always the power we perceive. The source of the Others’ power is, therefore, in our mind.

The power the Others possess is the power we give them. We face our own power.

Spence gives the example of his neighbor.
My perception of my neighbor, Mr. Suderman, is that of a nice man who tends his roses daily, and always has a wave and a smile. He has little power over me, for I have given him none. If, however, I ask Mr. Suderman how to grow roses, I will have endowed him with the power to explain to me the loves and lives of roses. If I ask him to sign a petition to recall the mayor, I provide him with more power. I perceive him as one who can grant or reject my request and thereby affect the political career of another. If I have a heart attack as I am visiting him in his rose garden, as I lie on the ground among his roses I perceive him as one who has the power to save my life. But his power came from me, my perception of him as a man who can teach me to grow roses, who can help recall the mayor, or who can save my life.
Yet Mr. Suderman is the same Mr. Suderman in every case. Is it not clear then that his power is the product of our perception, that his power is merely the power that we give him – that his power is our power?

Even Death has no complete power over us. Yes, we must all succumb to death, but we have a choice how we face death.

We do not have the power to rescind laws. But it is still our choice how we follow the law.

People that occupy positions of power – like judges or politicians – only have their power because of the institutional structures that carry them. Who has put these structures in place? We have.
Without those structures, even the President of the United States has no power to wage wars. He does not even have power to command anyone else. He is merely a normal human being.

More importantly, power, used to conceal cowardice – for example, when the neighborhood bully yells at us – is often useless to achieve what we want: love, respect, or success. We can not get them by coercion.

But we may get them when we let the Other experience the power in our arguments as gentleness, as compassion, as love, as humility, as sensitivity.

Often, the seemingly powerless really has all the power. The Rocky’s have always been more powerful than the Apollo Creeds.


The Incredible Power of Credibility. Standing Naked.

This chapter reminded me a lot about Paul Stanley’s autobiography. For only when Stanley learnt to accept himself and take off the mask, he could finally live his life the way he wanted to.

We must argue from the place where the whimpers and wailings are held back, where the anger boils, where the monster roses up and screams, where the lover and the saint and the ancient warrior fuse.

We must strive to focus on that very nucleus of our existence, because that is the magical place where credibility dwells.

We must abandon trickery to make our argument.

In many cases, people can spot whether the other person is truthful or whether they are being lied to. Their eyes, their smile and their body language give them away.

Even more, people lie to themselves of who they are.

Therefore, successful argument unfolds when we have regained the ability to reveal ourselves, to expose our feelings, and simply ask for what we want.


The Power of Listening. Hearing the Person Behind the Noise.

People don’t always  directly articulate what they have on their mind.
For example, Gerry Spence once asked a juror “How do you feel about a wife who is asking you for money for the death of her husband?” – and the juror replied with “I don’t know”.
This did not mean he didn’t know, it merely communicated that he did not feel comfortable telling. If he had felt fine about it, he would have simply said “I feel fine about it.”

If we are not aware of how people communicate – what they say and what they really say – then our arguments miss their marks. We might not even be aware of the real issue, since a lot of our actions are determined by our subconscious mind.

How do we find out the subtext of the argument? We have to step back and hear not the tirade but the weeping, not the cloying racket but the loneliness, the disappointment, perhaps the fear that smolders beneath the noise. We should ask ourselves: “What pain drives this ugly cacophony?”

Yet reacting in the same vein and paying the other person back in equal currency is a very human reaction.
How do we develop calmness in the face of anger? We do that when we constantly train ourselves to see the person behind the arguments. In Death in the Afternoon, Ernest Hemingway describes this as “the ability to watch the bull come as he charges with no thought except to calmly see what he is doing and make the moves necessary to the maneuver you have in mind.”

If we observe the other person, we can observe their aggression and let it bounce off the wall at will.


The Power of Prejudice. Examining the Garment, Bleaching the Stain.

We can’t win every argument with every person. Otherwise, the world would have been long since following logic and justice.
If a person is prejudiced, he or she is not open to arguments that go against his preformed opinion. We have to appeal to the person’s self-interest instead. Spence quotes the example of a lumberjack he wants to convince to save a forest when his livelihood depends on the availability of trees to cut down.

Under these circumstances, we can not appeal to his sympathy for the spotted-owl – the livelihood of which depends on an intact forest. His self-interest outcompetes the interest for the environment. If we, however, (1) give him the power to make a decision in favor or against saving the forest and (2) try to workout an arrangement where he can get an alternative job – perhaps collecting environmental samples for a local pharmaceutical company or becoming an advisor on the environment, we can now appeal to his love for nature and the forest. We have covered his self-interest first, which then allows him to make a decision that is favorable for everyone involved.

Self-interest is an impenetrable wall. We can not win an argument that goes against people’s convictions or livelihood.

The Power of Words. Gilding the Soliloquy.

It is better to use dry wit than age-old clichéd metaphors. It is also very efficient to choose words that evoke images and emotional reactions. Logical explanations do not sway our opinions and do not open us up for the Other’s arguments.


Structuring the Winning Argument. Building the House the Wolf Can’t Blow Down.

The easiest way to make the Other receptive to our arguments is Storytelling. One good way to start this is by saying “Let me tell you a story”.

1.  Begin a story close to the end – your listeners will ask themselves (a) what precedes the ending and (b) what happens next? One example out of the top of the head could be: “He took the knife and weighed it carefully in his hands.” – now you ask yourselves: (a) who is this person, how did he get the knife and (b) what will he do with it? The listener is thrown right into the middle of the action.

2. We obtain what we want with our core argument – the thesis.

3. When preparing our arguments, we can ask the following questions:
– What do we want?
– What is the principal argument that supports us?
– Why should we win what we want? What facts, what reasons, what justice exists to support the thesis?
– What is the storyline that best makes all of the above arguments?

Spence walks us through the complete construction of a convincing story by using two examples
–  a man who sues the manufacturer because his car broke down, causing a near-deadly accident;
–  someone who wants to change his life and start his business.

You can easily apply the lessons to your own life stories.


Opening Them Up. Bridging the Gap to be Heard.

Before we can make our case, we have to actually be sure the other side is open to our arguments.

We achieve that by giving them all the power.

We don’t fake smiles and talk about how happy we are. People can see through that. Assuming the stance of the “Nice Guy” does not lend credibility and does not open up the other side to our arguments. Of course, we smile when we are happy. But people realize if our smile is not in sync with the circumstances.

Telling jokes is also a risky strategy to “warm the audience up”. If the joke bombs, the argument is lost before it started.

How do we open up an audience then?
–  To be liked, one must be respected.
–  To be respected, one must be believed.
–  To be believed, one must be believable.
–  To be believable, one must be who one is.
No masks. Naked.
No nice smiles when one does not feel like smiling.
To be accepted, one must simply tell the truth.
Just tell the plain old truth!

The story below (after 1:35 min) in this book – a great example for giving the jury all the power.


How to Deliver the Winning Argument. Releasing the Sound and the Fury.

The way we deliver our arguments greatly matters. If our voice is without any emotions or our shoulders slouch and our eyes dart nervously around the room, we lose the audience. Their subconscious mind registers our insecurity.

If we have the better argument and more convincing case, why would we look defeated? Yet, we pay tragically little attention to our appearance.

This chapter is about charisma.

Spence describes charisma as energy from the heart zone. If the speaker lacks energy, he has nothing to transfer and will thus not be able to generate charisma. And how do we transfer our energy?

One way to do this is to imagine a “feeling reservoir” brimming with excitement. As we would do with a water-filled reservoir, we insert a siphon pipe and transfer these feelings to our audience.
1.  In our mind’s eye, we insert our communication pipe into your reservoir.
2. We open the pipe, so the energy can flow out.
3. The energy flows over our voice box and activates our vocal chords.
4. The energy is transformed into sound and rhythm that resemble the sound and rhythm of our feelings.
5. At the same time, it activates our body.
6. The whole body and its muscles respond in sync.
7.  The escaping energy flows into the listeners’ reservoirs through their eyes and ears.
8. The audience gets moved and excited in response to our charisma.

These steps guide us to becoming more charismatic from the position of a giver. But we can also become charismatic as a listener – by telling ourselves “There is no place else I’d rather be. There is no one else I’d rather see.” and “That must have been hard [or X]. You must have felt powerless [or Y]. Tell me more.” 

Both approaches aim at getting us in sync with our audience.

Spence shows us several exercises that help us get in touch with our feelings so we can actually let our “reservoir” overflow:
–  Singing.
–  Standing up with our bare feet on the ground.
–  Painting (or any other artistic activity that forces us to find a way to communicate our feelings).

These exercises sound simple, but they actually confront us with a lot of mindsets and “inner demons” that have made us hide our feelings over our past. Bringing them out into the open can be a painful process. But it is essential if we want to grow as a person.

To become charismatic, we have to first learn to sing with our own voice.


The Magical Argument. Arguing Out of the Heart Zone.

Great arguments may be founded in logic, but they do not originate from the head (although the head has a guiding function).

If a written argument is like painting a child, then making the argument in person is like giving birth to the child.

Early in his career, Gerry Spence had meticulously prepared an argument with precise notes. Then, when he stood in the court room, his papers fell from the lectern and spread all across the floor. There was no way he would be able to reassemble them. So he started to speak freely and now had to rely on his instincts and his heart zone to deliver the argument – which he very successfully did.

The words make the argument. But they do not carry the meaning. The sound, the rhythm, the body, the gestures, the eyes – those ultimately communicate the argument, and thus carry the brunt of the impact.


The Unbeatable Power Argument. Delivering the Knockout.

There are 10 steps that lead us to make our argument as good as it gets.
1. Prepare yourself.
2. Open the Other to receive your argument.
3. Give the argument in the form of a story.
4. Tell the truth.
5. Tell the Other what you want.
6. Avoid sarcasm, scorn, and ridicule. Use humor cautiously.
7. Logic is power.
8. Action and winning are brothers.
9. Admit at the outset the weak points in your argument.
10. Understand your power. Give yourself permission – only to win.


How to Argue and Win Every Time

Arguing in the Love Relationship. Love and War.

Sometimes we must learn to lose in order to win. If we insist on getting a victory with our romantic partner, we may lose the relationship.

If we want to defeat anger in our relationship, we must take the anger as a symptom of a deeper hurt.

If we want our partner to grow as much as we do, we must give up control.



How to Argue and Win Every Time

Arguing at the workplace. Engaging the corporate cyclops. Surviving the Governmental Leviathan.

We can not play the Corporate Game successfully without understanding the Game.

Arguing directly against our employer is futile, because a corporation is not a human being. It is a fictional structure. Like church, we can see the cathedral, but not the church as an entity.

Therefore, if we want to argue for a raise, we do not do it on the basis of justice or fairness, because corporations do not deal in justice.

To argue for a raise from a corporate employer, we must demonstrate that the higher wage will likely create more production and more profit. The possibilities for doing that are endless.
Some examples:
–  “I am working as hard as I can right now, but with a little more financial help I will be able to cut down my outside work and produce even more.”
–  “A raise will permit me to buy a new car so that with better transportation I will be able to work longer and with more dependability.”
–  “A raise will help me pay some of the debt that hounds me and will permit me to become even more efficient in lending my creative talents to the company.”
–  “A raise will help me further my education so that I can better apply my skills for company profits.”
–  “With a raise I will be able to eat better, sleep a little longer, and produce a lot more.”

If we want to argue for a promotion, we can use similar arguments:
–  “I am a good teacher and I can show the others how to be as good at what they do as I.”
–  “I can create a whole section of skilled finish carpenters equal to myself by sharing my secrets with them.”
–  “The men like me, and would want to please me as the foreman by working up to my standards.”
–  “I will become a working foreman, thereby assuring you of my good work, but increasing my value by passing on to others what I have learnt.”


How to Argue and Win Every Time


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Do you think Gerry Spence’s points are valid? Or do you think his view of empowering the Other is too simplistic? Let me know in the comments below!