Everyone Argues at Some Point
Although arbitrators, mediators, and lawyers deal with conflict as their profession, it’s true that everyone experiences conflict in their personal life at some point in time. Friends argue, spouses argue, siblings argue, parents argue… Everyone argues at some point, no matter how good the relationship is otherwise.
So, since everyone argues at some point, how do you dispute personal conflicts without compromising a relationship? Here are some things to think about before, during, and after an argument where a personal relationship is at stake.
Before the Argument
- What is the most likely potential outcome? If you’re arguing with someone over something like politics or religion, you’re not likely to come out of the argument with your mind changed nor is the other person likely to change their thoughts or beliefs on the subject. If the most likely potential outcome is to be in the same place you started, why bother arguing? It’s only going to cause tension in the relationship. However, if you believe that you may be able to sway the other person’s opinion (their beliefs aren’t entrenched yet) and that you are open to changing your beliefs (your beliefs aren’t entrenched yet), then it may be worth debating. Otherwise, let it go.
- Ask yourself, “So what?” If you’re about to get into an argument over something trivial where even if you “win” the debate the reward is minuscule, why bother arguing in the first place? Does it really matter which family member left their cup on the counter rather than putting it in the dishwasher? Is it worth causing tension in the family over? Don’t get me wrong — it might be in some cases — but make sure you figure out the end goal and if it’s worth it before the argument starts.
- What is your intention or what is the intention of the other person? Let’s face it: some people like to argue just for the sake of arguing. You might like arguing just for the sake of it. However, you should know that arguing for essentially no reason can result in rifts in personal relationships. Before you get into a conflict with someone else, ask yourself what your intentions are and what the intentions of the other person are. If it’s just arguing to argue, it might be best to avoid the conversation altogether.
During the Argument
- Listen to the other person’s point of view. This might sound like an obvious point but many people don’t actually listen to the other person while they’re talking. Let’s face it… We’re all guilty of thinking about counter-points while some else speaks. If you can, try not to think about what you’re planning on saying and instead listen wholly to the other person’s point of view.
- Keep your emotions under control. Some arguments can obviously be very contentious and emotionally draining; however, getting into a screaming match with someone is not conducive to any sort of conflict resolution. If you find yourself getting worked up or overwhelmed, take a moment to walk away and calm down. The same goes for the person you’re debating with. Do not continue to engage with someone who is more or less out of control.
- Go slowly and thoughtfully. When people get into heated arguments, they sometimes start talking more quickly to try to get out all of their thoughts at once in one big clump which can make disentangling the heart of an argument rather difficult. Take each point one at a time and discuss the merits of each in specifics rather than generalities.
- Don’t be defensive or hostile. There is a more and more common misconception nowadays that many people fall into. It goes a little something like this: “If I admit I’m wrong, that means I’m a bad person” or “My friend doesn’t agree with my opinion so therefore they don’t like me as a person.” Just because you hold opinions contrary to someone else’s doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or they’re a bad person — you simply don’t agree on something. You can disagree with someone’s point of view without disliking them as a person.
“Immature people always want to win an argument, even at the cost of a relationship. Mature people understand that it’s always better to lose an argument and win a relationship.” -Unknown
After the Argument
- Being right isn’t the end all, be all. Even if you think that you’re in the right and the other person is in the wrong, that shouldn’t be the ultimate goal of arguing with someone. Would you rather stress you being “in the right” or would you rather salvage your personal relationship with the other person? Granted, there may be some situations where friendships need to be severed because of two opinions that are irrecoverable though those are typically few and far between.
- Offer solutions to reaffirm the relationship. Often times, people can find some common ground even if they don’t agree on all aspects of the other’s opinion. If there is no common ground to be found, just agree to disagree. In most cases, it’s probably not worth losing the relationship over.
- Be open to feedback. In the same way that disagreeing with someone’s opinion doesn’t mean you don’t like them as a person, someone giving you feedback doesn’t mean that they don’t like you, either. Learning from your mistakes and being willing to admit where you were wrong is essential to growing not only as a mediator or lawyer but also as a person.