Essential skills for the modern world

Stay on the subject

Decide what the argument is about and stick to it. Do you just fancy a row? Or do you want to achieve something, such as getting the size/shape/colour sofa you want, or a holiday in France rather than Spain? Be aware what the other person's motivation is, too; if you suspect they might just be looking for a fight, it's probably best not to give them one.

Never get personal

You can pinpoint the disintegration of any normal argument into a nasty row to when someone begins a sentence with: "You're being very..." Try to avoid saying anything accusatory, even if the other person is being completely mad. The more personal and unreasonable they become, the calmer it should make you.

Stick to your guns

Focus on what you want to achieve; keep arguing that point and refuse to be drawn on anything else. If the person you're arguing with gets personal ("Why do you always have to...", "You are always so..."), it's an indication that they feel on rocky ground with their own points and think they can't win on their core argument alone. That's your cue to press them on your original point ("So you do agree we should get a black one and not a blue one?") for the maximum result.

Be quiet for a moment

Understand the power of silence. During an argument, even a loud one, there is a lot to be gained by going silent for a few minutes or even just 30 seconds. Let them do all the talking and show you all their cards; not only is it unnerving, it allows you to take stock of the situation and to decide what you're going to do next.

Achieve a moral victory

Know when you've lost. Being a good loser shows more character than wanting to win an argument at any cost. Literally hold your hands up and say: "Ok. You win." Pointing out to them a) how little the outcome of the argument matters to you and b) the rather trivial win/lose nature of the argument, leaves you the moral, if not the actual, victor.

Know when to argue

Pick your battles. Never bother to argue with anyone who is drunk, on drugs, or hysterical. The only thing to do with them, however annoying, rude or unreasonable they are being, is to walk away. If you are stuck with them just nod, smile and avoid eye contact. They'll be so grateful, later, for your calmness in the face of their ridiculous behaviour that they'll probably concede in any future disagreement with you.