Increasing Your Effectiveness in an Argument

Note: This is the third of a three-part series.

In an intimate relationship, the more hurt or angry you feel, the more likely you are to react to your partner as an enemy instead of as a teammate.  The more habitually you talk to each other as if you’re enemies, the more hurtful, defensive, antagonistic and unpleasant the relationship will become.   Nastiness begets nastiness.

If you wish to learn more effective ways of communicating, relating and problem solving, especially during an argument or disagreement, learn collaborative dialogue.  Collaborative dialogue uses consensus building and tact.  It attempts to hear what is right and useful in what each speaker says.  When dialogue is cooperative, you and your partner take turns talking and listening, with equal weight given to what each of you has said.

With collaborative dialogue, couples are able to function as teammates and work toward shared goals.   The tone of collaborative dialogue is friendly.  Even when the topic is a serious one, the tone still feels cooperative, as if you have placed a problem on a table and the two of you have sat down side by side to try to solve it.  Discussion centers around confronting a problem together, rather confronting each other.

Here are some tips to assist that collaborative dialogue occurs:

  • Make requests, not complaints. Complaints focus on what has occurred in the past, and they create hopelessness, because the past cannot be changed.  Requests, on the other hand, specify what you would like from here on out.
  • Calm inflammatory language. The more emotionally intense your language, the more intense your partner’s response is likely to be.  Any message can be given toxically in a way that conveys “I don’t like you,” or “You’re a bad person.”  Toxic comments needlessly antagonize your partner and can polarize the two of you so that you feel pitted against one another.  When toxic comments are delivered, the receiver will almost always tune in to the hurtful part of the communication and ignore everything else.
  • Tact gets better results. If you are careful, you will find that you can virtually always say what you need to say tactfully.  Webster’s Dictionary defines tact as an ability to avoid giving offense in order to win and keep good will.
  • The antidote to toxicity is compassion, the art of viewing your mate in the best possible light.  Compassion comes when we recognize our mate’s underlying positive intentions and overall positive attributes, and when we assume good will on the other person’s part.  Compassion grows when we see our mate’s weaknesses as areas where he or she still needs to grow and learn, rather than as bad traits.
  • Practice attentive listening.
  • To bring escalating hostilities back to cooperative dialogue, summarize what each of you has said and where the two of agree.
  • Ask questions that get the discussion back on track. “So in what ways do you think we agree on this?” or “What is the main point you want me to hear?” or “What would help?”
  • As emotions pick up, pause by calling a “time-out.” A “time-out” allows escalating feelings to cool, so constructive feelings can emerge.

Source: The Power Of Two by Susan Heitler (New Harbinger Publications).

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