Psychological health

6 Elements to Consider if You Want to Win an Argument

Eleanor *and Beatrice* were together for six years when they came for marital counseling. “It seems like we’re arguing about everything,” Eleanor said. “We used to agree on everything. I don’t know what’s going on.”

Angelina* has two older children. Her daughter does not talk to her and will not allow her to see her grandchildren. “She says I always argue, I always criticize her.”

Art * is having difficulties at work. He has been criticized for controversy, disrupting the team, and disrespecting his supervisor. “I’m not arguing,” said Art. “I’m just pointing out ways we can do things better.”

Edward * and his brother stopped talking due to political differences. “I can’t talk to someone so reckless about something so wrong,” he said. Although he said it didn’t bother him, he also admitted that he misses his brother and that he’s been feeling a bit frustrated and lost since the controversy.

We live in a world where winning and losing is paramount. But winning isn’t always what it seems – or as simple as it seems.

These six elements won’t necessarily help you “win” an argument, but they will help you be more satisfied with the outcome.

1. Set your termsOpinions differ according to the arguments. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, disagreement is a difference of opinion. Differences can be discussed, and opinions can change over time. Such changes usually require constant interactions, a belief in each other’s good intentions, and a desire to understand each other’s attitudes and beliefs. The argument is “angry disagreement” or “quarrel.” Arguments, if not moderated, can lead to a quarrel.

2. Set your goals: Do you want to clarify a point? Or do you prove you’re right and someone else is wrong? Do you need someone else who genuinely agrees with your position? Or do you want to engage in a real exchange of ideas, give and take, to find a solution that works for you and the other person (or people)? Edward and his brother were not interested in sharing ideas and understanding each other’s points of view. They competed greatly with each other, and each demanded that the other agree with them. There was no way for either of them to win this argument.

3. Battles are usually won only by forceRarely can either side win a heated argument, and so it often does not turn into more than a power struggle. Physical aggression or verbal aggression are the most obvious types of power play. However, withholding love, money, affection, time, interest, sex, or contact with loved ones can all be attempts to gain the upper hand. Angelina’s daughter was winning her battle by preventing contact between Angelina and her grandchildren. Angelina’s job was to find a way to calm the fight.

4. Keep the disagreement from turning into an argumentWhen disagreement rages on, winning is even more difficult. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman tells us that when a disagreement becomes a heated argument, both sides become more entrenched in their position. At this point, it is best to take a break from the discussion. When I work with couples, I often spend a lot of time helping them find healthy, non-threatening ways to take breaks from difficult discussions.

Based on Goleman’s findings, I suggest that after 20 minutes of any disagreement, they mutually agree to step back, go to separate rooms, and spend time doing something soothing—reading a book, listening to a podcast or music—and taking time. Shower. In some cases, doing something together that has nothing to do with the conflict can also be helpful – going for a walk or seeing a show, for example – but the agreement should be that there will be no discussion of contentious material for at least the next hour (it can also be the next day).

After both people have had time to calm down, they can revisit the topic, but again, for only 20 minutes at a time. Since Angelina and her daughter have crossed the 20-minute mark multiple times without resolving their difficulties, it has been difficult for them to find a way to return to a more mutually acceptable discussion. Finding the way back involves using the following two techniques: tact and empathy.

5. Consider using tact: Art is one of many clients I’ve worked with who felt that the only way to be true to himself was to say what he thought, whether other people liked to hear it or not. The argument, in his opinion, was merely an expression of his faith. As we began to explore some of his goals at work, he realized that by expressing himself without regard for the feelings of others, he was acting on contradictory goals.

He didn’t care about being liked, but he wanted to be successful in his job. And he began to see that he would have had more success in his work if he had been more tactful in expressing his points, many of which were important and useful. In fact, as he became more aware of the feelings of his co-workers and supervisors, he found that more and more of his suggestions were accepted.

When Angelina finally realized that she could and should be more tactful with her daughter, the conversations became somewhat more manageable. “I think of her as a part of me,” Angelina said. “But I have to accept that she is not. She is a mature woman who has needs and feelings of her own.”

6. Hone your empathy skills: Everyone, even your worst enemy, thinks they have good reasons for their opinions. Empathy means trying to understand another person’s feelings and point of view even if you don’t agree with them. Understanding why they think the way they do can make it easier to manage differences of opinion.

Despite disagreeing with his brother’s reasoning, Edward said, “I love him. He’s not an evil person. We’ve decided to try to keep talking about our differences, and explain our reasons to each other when we can. We limit our discussions to 20 minutes to visit. Then we watch a sports match.” And we don’t allow ourselves to talk more about the conflict. It seems to work. And the funny thing is that we seem to change a little bit in our thinking. How did this happen?”

Angelina and her daughter also started to progress as they tried to understand each other’s feelings more. “It was kind of cool,” Angelina said. “As soon as I started trying to understand her feelings, she started bringing her back to me. And the whole tone of our conversations changed.”

Arguments are difficult, if not impossible, to win. But differences of opinion are part of any relationship between two people who care about them but aren’t clones of each other. See what happens if you stop trying to win and start discussing and accepting differences.

*Names and identifying information have been changed to protect privacy

Copyright @fdbarth2022

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