My wife and I got into an argument this weekend about how we should be spending time with our son. Sounds like fun, right? That sentence might have conjured up images of wild shouting, doors slamming, and the hours of frosty silence that often follow heated arguments. And with good reason, since all of that has happened before – including slamming a door, then opening it to slam it again because the first time wasn’t quite slammy enough. But in this case, our argument lasted about half an hour, our voices barely rose above their normal volume, both of us felt significantly better when it was over, and we walked away with a good strategy. It was both an argument and a good conversation.
Nobody likes arguing (except bitter, angry people, but I’ll deal with them in a different article), but unfortunately other people have a habit of not seeing the world exactly the same way we do. It would be nice if we could remove their brains and replace them with something more malleable, and maybe someday science will let us do that. But until it does, here’s how you can have a mostly calm, largely productive argument with a spouse, boss, or coworker.
Figure Out What You Actually Want
Our instinctive reaction to things we don’t like is rarely productive – panic, shouting, violent pushback. That’s one reason why spontaneous arguments tend to be unproductive ones, because both parties are operating more on emotion than reason. If you can wait to have the conversation until after you’ve had a chance to properly analyze what you’re really upset about, you’ll be better able to articulate your point of view, which is more likely to resonate with the person you’re about to argue with.
Stand Your Ground
Unless you’re an emotional train wreck who gets blisteringly angry about nothing at all, then there’s a good reason that you’re upset. Don’t back down from that. You don’t have to yell about it, but you should absolutely say, “This situation is not OK with me. Something needs to change.” Remember, most of the people in your life are not consciously refusing to give you something you need. They might be ignorant of what you want, or perhaps you haven’t properly explained the importance of it to them yet. Taking a stand will allow you to solve either one of those problems.
Expect to Compromise
This is the only way any argument actually ends. If you refuse to compromise any point at all, the best you can hope for is for the other person to agree to your every demand just to shut you up, then quietly (or not so quietly) seethe about having caved in to your outrageous demands until their anger boils over and you find yourself in another, probably worse argument. You can do this even with situations where you absolutely refuse to compromise any part of the outcome – for example, by allowing the person you’re arguing with to do what you want in a way that works for them. If you expect to get everything exactly how you want it, you really shouldn’t be surprised when people aren’t thrilled about receiving nothing in return.
Arguments aren’t exactly fun, but they’re a necessary part of life. It’s thanks to a whole bunch of arguments that we ended up with a Declaration of Independence, paid sick leave, and universal suffrage. I’m also guessing there were a few boardroom arguments before everyone settled on the particular configuration of those trampoline parks that are popping up all around the country. And for that, I am eternally grateful. Now I just have to wait for my son to get old enough for me to convince him that he likes trampoline parks. I think it’ll be an easy sell.