How to Argue
You never know how someone else is going to respond. Think about it. It's unsettling not to know, which may be why we don't start. But over time, I decided that I would rather tell an uncomfortable truth instead of assuming someone would argue and wouldn't listen.
So I began to think about how to argue and how to start a complicated conversation. And what to do when the response might be a verbal assault that ends with fighting or a deep resignation that nothing will change.
Most people tell me they want their key relationships to communicate their authentic, personal truth of what they see, feel or think. They don't want to hear something that's filtered or managed, cleaned up or sanitized, or so carefully constructed that they walk away shaking their head wondering why people think they can't listen to a different view. The question you should ask yourself right now is if you can listen to a different perspective. Can you?
The easy part is to say you're willing to listen. The hard part is listening to it and not getting defensive, and instead, suspending judgment for a moment, taking a breath, and getting interested. And even thanking the other person for having the courage to tell you something you don't already agree with.
OK. You're listening and considering what another person has to say. Now it's your turn, and you have a decision to make. How can you speak "your truth" without making someone else wrong for their view?
First, let's think about what it means to argue. The origin of the word argue is to make something clear. Most people believe arguing is synonymous with fighting. That is a limiting perspective.
True arguing is a lost art. Consider that you only need to make something clear because you have a relationship with someone or a group of people. You care about them or respect them or work with them, and you want to know who they are and what they're thinking.
Perhaps we can change the focus of arguments from winning to building an evolving relationship. Which I think is critical to our ongoing success, safety, and fulfillment. It won't end arguments, but it could immediately change the way we argue in a relationship.
You'll know arguments are about domination and not clarity when there are statements and attitudes like:
• Don't argue with me.
Means I don't want to listen to your reasons. Just do what I say.
• Raising your voice.
Means I'll shout you down because your view is wrong.
Means you're not only wrong, but you can't exist in my world. There's just one way, my way. I'll suppress your voice.
Means I stop talking to you.
You'll know arguments are working toward clarity when there is room for questions and statements like:
• I hear you.
Means I recognize you have reasons different from mine, and I'm listening.
• Let's look.
Means I'm willing to inquire into the subject in depth before coming to a conclusion.
• How does this idea serve you?
Means I'm curious instead of defensive about your values and interests.
• What's missing from how it is now?
Means I'm willing to plumb the depths of your thoughts and feelings.
• Let's take a break.
Means I'm willing to pause before concluding and ponder what I've learned from you so far, and then come back together to continue the conversation.
If you want people to listen to you, you have to listen. If you're going to be understood, you have to bring understanding to the table. Likewise, if you want your team, friends, and family to listen to your arguments, you must consider their arguments as well. The secret is to remember that the point of arguing in a relationship is clarity, not agreement. Genuine agreement instead of compliance comes through mutual clarity.
May your day be filled with illuminating arguments that bring clarity and a closer relationship.
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Paulette Sun Davis