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How to win that argument over Christmas

The science of winning any argument
The science of winning any argument

Christmas might be the time of peace and goodwill towards all men but if the toxic mix of extended family, alcohol and hyperactive children gets too much, you might need to be equipped with the tools to win the debate around the Christmas table.

"I think that Christmas arguments are very difficult to win because there are certain power imbalances which will never go away. For example, no matter how old you are you will always be your parents' little boy or girl and there's little you can do about that," Rob Yeung, the author of "How to Win: The Argument, the Pitch, the Job, the Race," told CNBC on Friday.

"In the homeplace, there might be some things you have to take for granted and just listen to what your parents say. Whereas in the workplace, even though you might have a very senior boss, there is the chance that you could leave, go to another organisation or could even surpass your boss," he said.

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Yeung, an organisational psychologist and former academic, said he was prompted to write the book out of a frustration that many previous books advising on how to get ahead were based on "personal opinion," rather than published academic research on what helps people to win an argument.

Empathise but don't get emotional

"I've trawled the things that Harvard, MIT and Stanford on what helps people to win the career race and one of the findings, for example, is that emotionality is generally a bad thing when you're negotiating," Yeung warned. "If you're feeling emotional, whether it's up or down, you need to step away from the discussion table and come back with a much more rational argument."

Despite the tip to leave emotion at the door, Yeung said that most decision-making is based on emotional as well as data-driven reasons. So it's important to be empathetic to how other people feel, as well as what they're saying and thinking.

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"The research actually shows there are two different skills involved, one is perspective-taking which is trying to figure out 'What are your goals and objectives?' but then there's also the empathy part, trying to understand 'what are you feeling?'."

"You might be trying to argue for X,Y and Z but if you feel hard done-by, there's a lot around those emotional factors that you can deal with," he added.

Yeung's book advises readers to use evocative stories to win pitches and says that in job interviews, candidates who use self-promotion and ingratiation tactics do better. He likened good pitching skills to a "push and pull" of presenting oneself positively while not alienating the other negotiating party.

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"'Pushing' is [about] presenting a case and being very assertive but there is also the 'pull' of empathising and listening. Some people are very good at the listening part but without the 'push" they come across as doormats whereas some are very good at 'pushing' and saying 'this is what I want' but then they come across as aggressive."

The best mix? "When you feel heard and understood, that's when you get movement."

- By CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, follow her on Twitter @HollyEllyatt