The Right Way to Argue

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February 7, 2011 by middleearthnj

Resolving differences in an effective way is an important skill that serves us well throughout our lives. However, it is a skill that must be learned and practiced, and the teenage years are an excellent time to start that training (and a good time for adults to brush up on this skill). Teenagers have a lot of opportunities to argue – with mom and dad, with siblings, with friends, with teachers, with peers on the bus, etc. As adults, we should model the correct way to resolve our differences and also explain how to argue the right way. Offer your teen (and yourself) this advice:

Listen. It’s so much easier to be already planning what you’re going to say to someone before they’re done talking. However, sincerely listening, not interrupting, and trying to understand someone does two things to diffuse arguments. First, it conveys you care. Most people want to be understood and heard. If you can show you hear their opinion, but you just have a different opinion, it might make that person more open to hear your idea. Second, the person may not be as unfair or off-base as you think. You might learn something from what they say, so at least consider their approach before you dismiss it.

Think before you speak. Getting angry and yelling is an easy habit to fall into and can soon feel “normal”. The problem is twofold. First, when you let angry words fly out of your mouth, you can really hurt someone, and you may have a lot of apologizing to do later. Second, the natural human response to someone yelling at you is to become defensive or to more strongly state your opinion. The problem then becomes that no one has heard or understood the other and nothing is resolved. So, before voicing your thoughts, take the time to evaluate what you are going to say so that you don’t regret it later.

Walk in their shoes. Try to imagine how the other person feels and why. Listen to the other person with an attitude of wanting to understand them. Don’t judge them. Just consider how you would feel if you were in their situation. “How would I feel if I was the mom and my teen just got a speeding ticket?” or “How would I feel if my best friend just told me she wanted to date my ex-boyfriend?” Parents should also try this technique by considering how they felt as a teen when their parents berated them for poor test scores or other infractions.

Focus on your needs rather than on the conflict itself. Be clear about what you need. Figure out how you are being affected by the situation and what impact it is having on you. Why you disagree is irrelevant if you can come up with a solution that meets both of your needs. Your goal should be to develop a win-win result together, rather than work against each other.

Use “I” statements. Before becoming involved in an argument, analyze how you feel. Anger is generally an emotion covering up an underlying feeling of pain, fear, shame, etc. You should share your feelings, emotions and the effects the other person is having on you, but with “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “You” statements feel like an attack and put people on the defensive. For example, saying “I feel really bad about myself when you talk about my math grades in front of the neighbors” is more effective than “You make other people think I’m stupid!”

Avoid personal attacks. Calling someone a name or degrading someone’s character will only hurt that person, make them defensive and ensure that they will never be able to hear your side. Talk about the problem, but do not accuse the other person of anything. For example:

  • Teens: Don’t call your parents “old-fashioned nitwits” and expect them to come around to your side. Tell your parents that you value their opinion, and then calmly explain why you don’t see eye to eye.
  • Adults: Don’t call your child an “idiot” or “stupid” and think this will motivate them to change their behavior. Ask for their help instead… “I feel frustrated when you ______. Can you think of a way we can change this situation?”

Stay calm. If you find yourself getting too angry or frustrated, don’t hesitate to ask for some time to cool off.

Finally, if you’ve used all of these techniques, and you still cannot come to a resolution, simply agree to disagree!

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