Ready to Rumble
I was picking up food from the store and had an interesting experience. In the small amount of time I was there, I watched 4 different groups of people arguing with each other. Each group was different, families with kids, friends, and spouses and each was arguing for different reasons. Yet, each group shared a similar experience – they were angry and they wanted someone to know it.
It got me thinking; what if we could argue better? I don’t mean ways to win more arguments but what if we all could do a better job when we are faced with our next one? Are there practices we could put in play to help us turn down the ‘heat’ and help promote compromise and understanding?
Since arguments are unavoidable and I think we always can do better, I’d like to make a few humble suggestions to help us stay in a better position and argue better next time around.
Understand the Position
It can not be understated – don’t argue with someone whose position you don’t yet know or understand. This is not always feasibly done before you get into an argument but as soon as you can, ask yourself, “What is the person trying to say?” and try to find out.
A few things happen when we do this. First, taking a moment to step away (at least mentally) from the emotions of the arguments to ask yourself this question gives us a quick moment to gain some sold footing to move from. Arguments are usually emotionally-charged supernovas ready to explode and taking that quick “brake-check” can help more than we can imagine.
Second, when we demonstrate a willingness to the other person that we want to understand their point, we show them that we care and are ready to meet them where they are. Everyone, at our deepest levels, wants to know that our voice and opinions matter. When you show that these things do matter to you in provides a better place to discuss from.
Third, and this is a big one, we ACTUALLY get to hear what the real issue is. Arguments are sometimes arguments not over an idea or a position but a feeling underneath it all(“You don’t care”, “I feel alone when you…” “You don’t believe me.”). If we continue to engage at the idea level, we may never understand the actual problem. I like to use the analogy of the game Battleship. Arguing about an idea when the emotion underneath it actually the root issue is like trying to hit the other players battleship – it’s a lot of guessing, lots of misses, and rarely actually gets to hit its mark.
Fourth, when you finally hear the real issue, say it back to the person. Frame it like this, “So, what I am hearing you say is…” and listen to the response. You may be surprised to find out that wasn’t the issue at all and you heard it wrong. Or even more common, hearing back their own explanation of why they are upset might help them realize it actually isn’t what is bothering them after all. This would be like asking them where their battleship is before making a selection on the board.
Start with ‘Me’ and End With ‘You’
A powerful way to argue well is to practice reordering the “Me’s” and “You’s” in the argument. For example, saying to someone, “You always ______ and it drives me crazy!” is an accusation. Even the most leveled-headed person will feel the need to move to self-defense and preservation. This is the death blow in any argument. If someone is on the defense, no one wins and everyone comes out cut and bruised.
On the other hand, saying, “I was frustrated by my experience of when you _______” can help keep lines of communication open. While it may seem like semantics the act of describing your experience and emotions allows the other person to choose whether they need to go on the defense or not. You have described how you felt and said nothing about them. Here they can ask you to help them understand why. You leave open the possibility that you yourself may be wrong and are just trying to figure out what was going on (see step 1).
Take A Break
Sometimes, when emotions are just too charged, it might be good to take a step away. Personally, I have been terrible at this and my wife has shown me the power of it time and time again. Saying, “I think I just need to take a break. Can we pause and talk about this after I have thought about it?” changes the dynamic of the argument.
The truth is emotions are very rarely assuaged by logical discussion and sometimes need time to “bleed off”. This isn’t an excuse to get away from resolution, doing so will introduce more pain and doubt, but gives each other time to process without having to defend. I can think of many times I argued about something, only to step back for and find out it was not as big of a deal as I had previously thought. The emotions bleed off and I was able to later explain my position, much more level-headed, as well as understand the other person’s position as well.
Own Your Stuff
If you want to truly argue well, you are going to need to own your own part in it. Whether small or big, the power of showing to the other person that you know you haven’t done it well either can dramatically change not only arguments but relationships. No one likes to feel like they are the only one being blamed and it is very rarely the case that one person has done nothing wrong. We can all do better – own it. Then, try some of the other steps mentioned and see if new lines of communication are opened that were once severed.
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