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How to Have Better Arguments

It would be impossible to agree with everyone in your life. How can we deal with disputes in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling drained?

“We have a great relationship, we never argue”.

Whether it’s romantic relationships, familial bonds or work connections, we’ve all heard this adage thrown around. But psychologists agree that fighting can be a sign of a healthy relationship.

It would be statistically impossible to agree with everyone in your life on every topic. So how can we deal with disputes in a way that doesn’t leave us feeling drained and withdrawn?

Accept that disagreements will happen

Disagreement is part and parcel of human interaction. The relationship between mother and baby is often regarded as one of the most intimate relationships there is, yet research shows that mothers and three month olds are uncoordinated 70% of the time.

We often hide arguments from view, saving them for when others aren’t around and snapping back to routine as soon as they’re over. This makes conflict less visible and perpetuates the idea that a perfect relationship is problem-free.

The truth is, arguments are everywhere. One study found that US employees spend nearly 3 hours per week dealing with workplace conflicts. When we understand the true commonality of arguments they become less a measure of our value, and more a mundane fact of life.

Position yourselves on the same team

When we approach conflict as a win/lose situation, we stop listening. We’re busy formulating a bulletproof case, and the other person’s words are little more than filler to buy us the time to do so.

This makes two huge assumptions:

  1. That winning is more important than solving the problem in a way that works for everyone involved
  2. That shouting logic at people will secure us the win

Few people have changed their beliefs as a result of a shouting match. On the contrary, it’s been shown that disagreeing only makes us more confident in our own opinions.

Instead, try being curious about what the other person is telling you. This moves the disagreement away from a personal attack and positions all parties as a team against the problem. The camaraderie brings couples and teams closer together, and relieves the feeling of being emotionally wounded after a big fight.

Hit pause if you’re emotionally drained

Research from Yale University shows that disagreeing is more energetically taxing than talking to someone you feel aligned with. It literally tires us out. The irony is that when we’re tired or stressed we’re less able to access creative and complex thinking, making it harder to come up with mutually beneficial solutions.

Practising self-awareness can help us recognise when we don’t have the headspace for a nuanced, compassionate argument. Some experts warn against ending the day with conflicts left unsolved. While there’s some truth that unresolved arguments can leave emotional residue, there’s also value in agreeing to hit pause until you’ve recharged. Only you will know what feels right in each situation.

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