- When not to argue
- The art of arguing
- Deciding on a bottom line
When not to argue
Differences of opinion are inevitable in any relationships, and can lead to anything from a slightly heated discussion to a full-blown shouting match. Arguments can be a useful way of resolving issues, but often become too heated and disintegrate into two people trying to hurt each other. It might not be a good time to argue if:
- Either of you are so angry or upset that it’s difficult to be rational or listen to the other person
- Either of you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol
- You’re in a public place or you only have a short amount of time
- Either of you isn’t in a good mood to discuss anything difficult – decide on a time in the future when you can have the argument instead.
If you are in any of these situations, say something like ‘I definitely want to have this conversation but now isn’t a good time. Could we do this tomorrow night over dinner?’
Your safety is your first priority during an argument, and violence is never an acceptable response. If you are concerned at any point that the person you are disagreeing with may become physically violent, leave the situation immediately and go to a safe place.
The art of arguing
The following tips will help you to argue more productively:
- Use your active listening skills and try and understand where you’re the other person is coming from.
- Stay with the issue at hand - don’t bring up previous arguments or other things you’ve been meaning to say which may be difficult when emotions are running high.
- Use ‘I’ rather than ‘you’, e.g. ‘I felt hurt when..’ rather than ‘you hurt me when…’
- Try not to use words like ‘always’ or ‘never’. Give specific examples where you can, e.g. ‘You told me to be quiet in front of our friends last week’.
- Don’t bring other people into the argument - stay with your own opinions and feelings.
- Sit down and focus on keeping your muscles relaxed. Take some time to breathe more deeply if you’re feeling angry or hurt.
- Don’t get caught up with details, e.g. counting up exactly how many times the other person did the wrong thing.
- Try not to interrupt.
- If you don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings, try focusing instead on what you are feeling. It may be appropriate to communicate this – ‘I feel really angry that you don’t agree with me in front of other people.’ It might also help to say ‘I really want to get back at you after what you just said’ rather than launching into a list of expletives.
- Don’t expect the other person to be able to read your mind.
- If the argument feels like it’s going round and round or is getting heated, acknowledge this and suggest you try a different tack or have some ‘time out’.
- It may be helpful to re-visit the argument when you’re both calmer – e.g. ‘I’ve been thinking about what you said and I think you had a point when…’ or ‘I feel like I didn’t get my feelings across very well last night, what I meant to say was…’.
Deciding on your bottom line
One of the biggest challenges in all relationships is acknowledging that we can’t control anyone else’s behaviour or force anyone else to change. All we can do is change our own behaviour – being clear about our needs, letting the other person know how their behaviour is affecting us, and offering compromises.
If you are feeling ‘stuck’ in an argument, it may be helpful for you to decide on your ‘bottom line’. This is the point at which you refuse to put up with someone else’s behaviour. Examples might be ‘If you don’t do your share of work at the Brigade meetings, I’m not going to do it for you anymore’. Communicate this calmly to the other person, and make sure you follow through if necessary.
With practice, arguments can be a great way to get difficult feelings out into the open, and to start moving towards a solution that will be satisfactory for those concerned.