How To Negotiate And Win Arguments:Lessons from Abraham Lincoln and John C. Calhoun

What You Say When You Argue and Negotiate: How LINCOLN Did It
by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

Gene Griessman

You don’t have to win every single skirmish in a debate or negotiation to be victorious in the end.  In fact, it can be strategic to lose a few points, maybe even a lot of points–if you can win the war.

Abraham Lincoln was a master at this. Lincoln was an admirer of the debating skills (but not the political views) of John C. Calhoun.  Calhoun, in a famous debate in the U.S. Senate, conceded point after point to his opponent. Calhoun then summed up his concessions: “I yield all that.”

Lincoln the lawyer used Calhoun’s strategy as his model in the courtroom. He would concede point after point, and then would tell what he could not and would not concede.

You can do this, too. Next time you are in a argument or a negotiation, make some preliminary but not critical concessions. The other party just might be impressed by your sense of fairness, and be willing to give you what you really want.

If you use this strategy, it is absolutely necessary for you to be able to complete your argument.  It could be disastrous if you make concessions but get cut off before telling what you do not concede. This could happen in a media interview or in a committee meeting.

To avoid this happening, say something at the start like, “I can agree with you on several of the points you made, but there is one that I have to challenge.”  Or, “I can grant you several (or three or four or five) points , but there is one that I wish I could concede, but I cannot.”

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