Whether it is an emotionally-charged quarrel with your partner, a minor dispute with a friend or a heated confrontation with a workplace bully, the art of constructive disagreement is not always easy to master. Some tips and tricks.
While the idea of living a life without ever having a verbal fight may sound appealing to some, occasional conflict remains unavoidable and sometimes even important. When an argument erupts…
Don’t start all your sentences with what psychologists call “you-statements.” You guessed it, a you-statement starts with the pronoun “you” and inevitably implies that the listener is responsible for a problem. In other words, if you start your sentences with “you,” it will most likely sound like you’re dumping all the blame on the other person and refusing responsibility. The person you have an argument with will feel cornered and become defensive – making a positive outcome of the conflict unlikely.
Do use “I-statements.” If you start your sentences with the pronoun “I,” you subtly show your listener that you are not only accusing them but also acknowledging responsibility for your emotions and thoughts. I-statements are still assertive, but they are more likely to lead to fruitful communication than hostile you-statements. Try to express how you feel (“it makes me feel insecure when…”) rather than criticizing the other person. Don’t fight each other, fight the problem that obstructs the path to mutual happiness.
Don’t lose your temper. Try to stay calm and rational without falling prey to emotional outbursts. Crying, shouting and dealing low blows to each other can never lead to a constructive exchange. In this context, don’t use absolutes such as “never” and “always.” Exaggeration and hyperbole are not your friend when you’re trying to have a constructive argument.
In relationship spats, don’t attack the entire relationship. Don’t focus on your partner’s personality flaws and simply invalidate their point of view and emotional experience. Instead, do bring up behavioral problems and discuss individual issues. Invite your partner to contribute and suggest solutions. Do listen to what they have to say and don’t interrupt them. Don’t bring up previous arguments but focus on the here and now. Let the past rest.
Don’t be a self-proclaimed mind-reader and assume that you exactly know how the other person is feeling. Never. works.
Don’t bring other people into the argument, arguing that your friends or family agree with you. Keep it between the people who are actually involved.
Do use facts and evidence to back up your position. Especially if the argument is of professional nature and takes place at your workplace with a colleague, try to use statistics, surveys or any other kinds of cold hard facts to strengthen your point. Sometimes, subjectivity can be masked as objectivity.
In the context of workplace confrontations, also do differentiate between occasional (harmless) quarrels and consistent bullying. You will encounter workplace bullies in most big firms and, unfortunately, managers sometimes look the other way if the bully is valuable to the firm. In Luxembourg, there is currently no specific law punishing workplace bullying, which can make it difficult for victims to find legal help. “Mobbing asbl Luxembourg” in Luxembourg City, however, is one of the country’s organisations that may be able to help. Do know when to argue and when to walk away to get help from a third party.
If you already know in advance that you’ll confront someone, do start the argument on a positive note. This is a trick that teachers for example regularly use in teacher-parent conferences. Rather than immediately bringing up negative aspects, they start by pointing out something they like about the student. Do adopt this tick and capitalize on the positive before turning to the more unpleasant aspects. The listeners will be much more inclined to react positively.
Now get out there and ruffle some feathers – but do it right!