Sometimes, it seems as if we are surrounded by discord. This may include family members arguing over unimportant things, or in contrast, countries and cultures at war – or even a seemingly daily diet of politicians scoring points over each other. We cannot get away from the fact that life is not all about peace and harmony. Everyday routines can often encompass annoyances, opposing interests, dislikes, insults, differences of opinion and divergent interpretations.
It is often said that when we argue it can clear the air, addressing any longstanding issues, and exploring areas of conflict, rather than allowing them to incubate. But arguments can often be the source of unhappiness and anger.
Experts tell us that it is possible to argue constructively, but how can this happen? Maybe we can see a positive argument in terms of whether we won – or not. This is a hollow victory, perhaps if this leaves a loved one feeling humiliated, sad or angry. So how can we exchange our views in such a way that everyone gains something when we argue? Here are some pointers:
Timing is important.
When a person is very tired after a challenging day, busy or just going out, it is unhelpful to start a discussion that could develop into an argument. Similarly, if you are feeling worn out or miserable, unkind words are more likely to emerge. If you recognise these feelings in yourself, then take action to deal with your situation in a way that will not result in angry words.
Listen carefully to the other person.
When you argue with someone you may think you know what they will say and how they will react, but listening carefully may reveal some feelings and information that you have missed. Ensure that you acknowledge the other person’s point of view. You do not have to agree with what is being said but you do need to indicate that you have understood what the message is. It can help to re-state in a calm voice what the person has said, asking for confirmation, in order to show that you have understood them. One of the signs of an unproductive argument is that you are more preoccupied with convincing your partner to back down than you are with actually listening to their ideas and feelings.
Argue with the problem, not the person.
The points you make will be heard more clearly if you discuss the issue itself rather than the other person. In most statements that we make in a dispute, we may be tempted to fight with our own anger and put unkindness into the point we are trying to get across.
If things have become hot-headed, agree to take time out and calm down. You could count to 10. When you are both feeling less heated, take it in turns to allow the other person to talk, uninterrupted, about how they see things.
Trust the other person’s intentions.
When you accept their reasoning is valid from their point of view, you are better able to see what might not have been apparent to them before. This gives you the opportunity to share what would work better for you both moving forward.
Treat others with respect – and how you wish to be treated.
This was a lesson we were all taught when we were small children. It is still important. Don’t raise your voice at someone and then expect them not to reciprocate. Shouting at another person will not bring the argument to a positive conclusion.
Essentially, an argument can be a way for two people to come to a proper understanding — which will happen a lot faster if you are genuinely interested in each other’s point of view, and willing to ask questions to understand it better. Taking an attitude of curiosity and asking clarifying questions can be very helpful.
Agree to find a solution
– at least for now. You need to find a way forward. Perhaps you will get your way; maybe the other person will get his or her way – or you could both compromise. Whatever you decide, draw a line under the argument and move forward.
The Sufi poet Rumi once wrote, ‘Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’ Alienating communication, unfortunately, can trap us in a place of ideas about rightness and wrongness, a whole world of judgements. When we speak this language of judgement, we perceive others and their behaviour while being obsessed with who is good, bad, typical responsible, ignorant etc. At best, communicating and thinking this way can create misunderstanding and frustration. And at worse, it can lead to anger and depression. Instead, placing our focus on connection through active listening as opposed to ‘being right’ and getting what we want has the potential to transfer conflict into mutually satisfying outcomes.
The Academy for Distance Learning provides a course on Conflict Management for those who find this subject useful and exciting.