A Review: How to Argue by Jonathan Herring

Updated on November 20, 2017
ColleenDonald profile image

M.A. candidate with a specialty in cultural intelligence/integrated communication: Public relations, TV media, planning and research.

Your partner forgot to do the dishes, your coworker missed an important deadline, or your friend disagrees with your politics, and you find yourself in an unwanted disagreement. What do you do? The natural reaction is to say how you feel in the moment, and to argue with that person so that they can see the issue from your perspective. However, if you’re not careful, arguments can lead to disastrous outcomes.

Everyone, at some point, will come into contact with an argument: at school, at work, and in our relationships with others. Although avoiding arguments are possible, learning how to argue correctly is more desirable. The book “How to Argue: Powerfully, Persuasively, Positively” by Jonathan Herring suggests ways to argue effectively and concisely without ruining friendships, business opportunities, and our interpersonal relationships. As a lawyer, he offers his golden rules that can be taken from the courtroom and used in our everyday lives. I chose this book because it can not only benefit myself but others who are unable to handle confrontation and conflict. In the first half of the book, Herring discusses his Ten Golden Rules of Argument in which he explains how to handle different arguments that one may run across. In the second half of the book, he applies the golden rules to different practical situations that occur for most people. I will review the golden rules, and review the situations that Herring discusses in the literature.

Golden Rule 1: Be prepared

The first rule in winning an argument is to be prepared. Herring stresses that one must know what they want from the argument and cannot argue a point without having done the research. Being prepared means having factual sources and framing the argument to where it flows logically. If one presents an argument to where is doesn’t make any sense, they lose credibility. He says that having a “premise, supporting facts, and a conclusion” is important.

Golder Rule 2: When to argue, when to walk away

As the saying goes “you can’t win them all,” and people must learn to pick and choose which arguments are worth entering. This involves a person having to asking themselves if the argument will be productive or if it’s a necessary argument. This rule also involves one asking themselves if it is the time or place to have an argument; sometimes, emotions can make someone ready to discuss an issue before the other person is ready. Moreover, if one knows the person they are disagreeing with well, they could decide if having the argument will change anything, or if it will only further damage the relationship.

Golden Rule 3: What you say and how you say it

Herring discusses that it’s not often the context of the argument but in the way one provides their argument that matters. Having a positive tone, humor, inviting body language, and the use of analogies are all ways to send the same message in an uplifting way. Brevity is also important. He suggests that when you give three key points of your argument it allows people to follow more it more clearly; long stories tend to discourage people from listening to what someone has to say.

Golden Rule 4: Listen and listen again and Golden Rule 5: Excel at responding to arguments

One must be able to listen well in an argument in order to respond well. Herring describes active listening as a key to being able to challenge a point, or respond to a certain perspective. Listening to the facts of the other party and being able to challenge those facts are interconnected. Additionally, being able to understand a person’s perspective in a disagreement is one’s solid foundation to provide another point of view.

Golden Rule 6: Watch out for crafty tricks

Some people may use tricks to prove their point and could imply that there is no room to disagree; for instances, using generalizations or concealed questions. Other tactics discussed for this rule including major topics, causation, attacking a person, hostile associations, the power of silence, begging the question and slippery slopes are detailed in the book. However, these tactics are unable to be discussed in the scope of this paper.

Golden Rule 7: Develop the skills for arguing in public

Being able to argue in public is a great way to strengthen public speaking skills. This skill could be used to help with presentations and proposals. Herring’s advice on how to speak well in public includes preparation, practice, talking slowly, having a great tone, using handouts, and ending with a clear summary of the argument. He also encourages not reading off of a paper; presentations should flow naturally.

Golden Rule 8 Be able to argue in writing

Email can be a way to miscommunicate, but also a simple way to get a point across, if done correctly. Blogs have also been used as an outlet for arguments and presenting new perspectives. Handwritten notes and typed documents are not omitted from this rule. All forms of written communication must be able to understood. Spelling and grammar can change the tone of a sentence, and lengthy (fluff) on a position can lose its clarity for the reader.

Golden Rule 9: Be great at resolving deadlock

Sometimes it’s best to not “force a deal.” There are alternatives to settling an argument. As Herring notes, there are simpler ways to settle an argument: flipping a coin, calling in a third party, or compromising so that there doesn’t need to be a rift between the people involved.

Golden Rule 10: Maintain relationships

Not all arguments are worth having. In most instances, it’s more important to keep the relationship and apologize, or to win an argument gracefully. If both parties need to express their perspectives, it is important to argue with caution.


The focus of the second half of the book are the applications of the golden rules to different situations. Herring details these examples: arguing with your children, the ones you love, how to get what you want from an expert, how to complain, and more. One example he presents is when having an argument at work. The first thing in this situations is to ask if the argument is really worth it (golden rule 2). In delicate situations at work, put business first, but if needed, encourage conversation, and get people on your side. Another example is ending an argument when you realize you are in the wrong; lose well, apologize, and keep the relationship (golden rule 10).

In conclusion, Herring’s advice in “How to Argue: Powerfully, Persuasively, Positivity,” offers tactics on how to effectively handle conflict and offers an alternative perspective to arguing. Rather it be in writing, in public arenas, or simply needing to walk away from a disagreement, being prepared and using good judgment while consciously thinking about the purpose of needing to prove a point, can save relationships, business opportunities, and friendships.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers


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      • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 

        2 years ago from U.S.A.

        Excellent overview. My dad used to say, especially pertaining to relationships and disagreements: Do you want to be right or happy? Keep up the great hubs.


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