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.
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:
- Download the “Name Your Feelings” worksheet by clicking the button below and entering your email.
- Do a Pinterest or Google Images search for “Emotional Charts” to get some ideas.
- Fill in your chart with your own words, as many as possible.
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:
- Their posture
- Their eyes
- The corners of their lips
- The corners and ridge of their nose
- 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:
- The closer a person is to you, the more difficult empathy becomes
- 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):
- “A little” (for 1 to 3 intensity)
- “Kind of” (for 4 to 5 intensity)
- “Very” (for 6 to 7 intensity)
- “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.
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:
- Breath deeply and slowly
- Speak slower than you want to
- Speak quieter than you want to
- Speak more gently than you want to
- Take a break until you can cool off
- If you need a break, set a time limit
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.
Add your voice (Comment below)
- Which of these guidelines comes most easily to you?
- Which of these guidelines comes most difficultly to you?