Leadership Marriage Parenting Personal Growth

How to Argue Without Anger

We all argue. Arguments are part of every relationship, including the healthy ones. But there are right and wrong ways to do it, here are a few guidelines.

Who wants to argue with this guy?
Image via Wikimedia

Argue Clearly

In order to be able to argue well, you need to be able to name and measure your own emotions. If you are angry or sad about something, then you need to be able to express it (without being misled, of course).

If you can’t name and measure your emotions, the person you’re arguing with will have less chance to understand where you’re coming from.

If this is hard for you, try making your own emotional chart by following these steps:

Name Your Feelings Teaser

  1. Download the “Name Your Feelings” worksheet by clicking the button below and entering your email.
  2. Do a Pinterest or Google Images search for “Emotional Charts” to get some ideas.
  3. Fill in your chart with your own words, as many as possible.

Argue Compassionately

Once you are able to name and measure your own feelings, you’ll be better at recognizing the other person’s feelings. This skill is also known as empathy.

Empathy is fairly easy if you are paying attention to several things about the other person:

  1. Their posture
  2. Their eyes
  3. The corners of their lips
  4. The corners and ridge of their nose
  5. Their verbal tone, volume, and pace

Try this quiz from the New York Times to see how good you are at reading facial cues. If you score above 30, you’re doing amazingly well.

Here are two frustrating rules about empathy and compassion that you need to know if you’re going to use them well:

  1. The closer a person is to you, the more difficult empathy becomes
  2. The closer a person is to you, the more costly empathy becomes (whether good or bad)

You have to be really good at empathy when it doesn’t count – with people you’re not close to – if you’re going to be any good at empathy when it does count – with people that you’re close to. You have to be really good at empathy when it counts if you’re going to argue without anger.

The best way to get good at empathy is to use it often. You have the opportunity to use empathy and get feedback in every conversation with other people. Here’s a simple formula for a “positive empathy statement” that you can start using in conversation.

“You feel [measuring word] [emotional word] because [situation]

Some measuring word options (for a 1 to 10 scale):

  1. “A little” (for 1 to 3 intensity)
  2. “Kind of” (for 4 to 5 intensity)
  3. “Very” (for 6 to 7 intensity)
  4. “Extremely” (for 8 to 10 intensity)

For emotional words, start with just “sad,” “mad,” or “glad.” Wait until you’re right most of the time (like 80% or more) with those three before trying to figure out mixed emotions.

When you describe the situation, keep it simple and short.

Our culture is so bad at empathy that people will appreciate your effort even if you only get an empathy base hit. You don’t need to hit an empathy home run.

Still, if the person you’re arguing with is close to you, or the stakes are high in a particular argument, you don’t want to strike out. Here is a formula for a “negative empathy statement.”

“You don’t feel [emotional word], because [situation].”

Use negative empathy statements to get in the right ball park. Use positive empathy statements to get on base.

Argue Calmly

Keep your cool. If either of your emotions are at a 7 or higher, it will be nearly impossible to argue well. If you’re between a 3 and 7, it’s possible, but hard.

To be able to argue well, both people’s emotions need to be cooled off to a 3 or lower.

Here are some ideas for staying calm when your emotions are higher than a 3:

  1. Breath deeply and slowly
  2. Speak slower than you want to
  3. Speak quieter than you want to
  4. Speak more gently than you want to
  5. Take a break until you can cool off
  6. If you need a break, set a time limit

Argue Carefully

Think carefully about what you’re going to say. Think slowly about what you’re going to say.

Just like you’re more likely to crash when you’re speeding, you’re more likely to argue badly if you rush it.

Take your time. Recognize of your own emotions. Recognize the other person’s emotions. Stay calm. That’s how you argue with out anger.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, argue without anger.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:18

Add your voice (Comment below)

  1. Which of these guidelines comes most easily to you?
  2. Which of these guidelines comes most difficultly to you?

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Personal Growth

3 Ways Bad Feelings are Misleading

“Our theology gets really bad when we’re suffering.” – Ken Logan

When I first heard that statement a few weeks ago, it got me thinking about the basic emotions associated with suffering, usually anger or sadness, and what the bible says about them.

Be angry and do not sin. Ephesians 4:26

Cognitive psychologist Aaron Beck said that we learn that certain beliefs seem true in certain situations. When those situations happened, they would trigger a belief, which would trigger a thought, which would trigger behavior. His words for this chain were a bit different, but you get the idea.

Beck’s chain reaction could lead to a good or bad result depending on whether or not there were “thinking errors” in the belief stage. Thinking errors put a false filter on what we see in the world. They convince us of a false reality.

Even though I have frequently used this model with clients, one of its basic flaws is a risk of denying the validity of bad feelings. If we take Beck’s idea to it’s extreme, we shouldn’t have bad feelings because all bad feelings are due to thinking errors – which is a thinking error itself.

Be Angry and do not Sin

Here is what one verse from the bible says about bad feelings (Ephesians 4:26):

  1. “Be angry” Have your bad feeling. Hold it. Steam in it. Stew in it.
  2. “and do not sin;” While you’re holding your anger, steaming and stewing in it, don’t burn anyone else.
  3. “do not let the sun go down on your anger,” You have to cool down at some point, the sooner the better.
  4.  “and give no opportunity to the devil.” The longer you steam and stew, the greater the likelihood you’ll burn someone.

Be angry and do not sin. Be sad and do not sin. Feel bad and do not sin. Easier said than done.

Bad Feelings are Not Inherently Bad

It is legitimate to feel angry or sad in times of suffering. Pretending that we are not hurt would lead to denying the reality that something bad has happened. If someone has hurt you, or life has you cornered, your anger and sadness are legitimate – you really do feel that way. It’s not a thinking error.

You feel bad because something wrong happened. It is not wrong to feel bad. Don’t feel guilty for being sad or angry.

Believing it is bad to feel sad or mad leads to false guilt. That false guilt misleads us about God, ourselves, and others.

Bad Feelings are Contagious

The problem is not the bad feelings. The problem is the bad behavior that results from those feelings – and leads to more bad feelings for more people. As the saying goes: “hurt people hurt people.”

While we are only human to feel anger or sadness when we have been wronged. We dehumanize ourselves and others when we lash out. There are good uses for both sadness and anger, but they build up, they don’t tear down.

It’s easy to say not to hurt others while we’re suffering. It’s hard to practice. When we’re distracted by our own emotional bleeding, we don’t often have attention or energy for the sensitivities of others. We might even feel entitled to enact revenge, but that only continues the cycle.

Justifying bad behavior because of bad feelings cheapens the emotional value of those feelings. Seeking vengeance cheapens justice. Cheapening justice minimizes the ugliness of sin and suffering.

Bad Feelings Are Sticky

It’s ironic that neither anger or sadness are pleasant to feel, but they both bring relief from the pain that brought them on. What’s worse, the disease or the cure? Too much of either one is toxic in the long run.

If it is hard to tear a band-aid away from a paper cut, how much harder is it to tear away anger or sadness from genuine suffering?

This is not to say that we should rush a responsible way of handling sadness or anger. It is to say we should start that process as soon as possible. The longer we go without starting that process, the greater the risk of hurting someone else out of our own pain.

Being mired in bad feelings for too long reduces both hope and initiative. Hope is what we need to turn to Christ. Initiative is what we need to take responsibility.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

Which one is hardest for you:

  1. Allowing yourself to feel anger or sadness?
  2. Self control while feeling anger or sadness?
  3. Letting go of anger or sadness?

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