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Ten arguing styles to avoid

In Community and Relationship by LivingNowLeave a Comment

It is impossible to have an honest and close connection with someone without experiencing some conflict. The way we deal with differences of opinions has a huge impact on our relationships with others. Arguments can destroy relationships, but handled well, they can be catalysts for stronger and more meaningful attachments. There are, however, ten arguing styles that should be avoided.

Do you believe that winning the argument is all that matters? Can bullying the other person into submission be justified if your needs are met? If this is your understanding of a successful argument, you are paying a very high price. Winning an argument in this way means that you have almost certainly lost something of the relationship with the other person.

Perhaps you find yourself avoiding conflict because you fear that the argument will turn into a tirade of abuse. This is a real concern, as personal attacks can remain hurtful long after the argument has been forgotten. To avoid this, focus on the issue and not on the other person. This way, the ‘issue’ can be left at the negotiating table and you, and your partner, can carry on your relationship as normal.

Do you view all conflict as negative? Try to see conflict as an opportunity for the relationship to grow. Relationships are always changing and it could be that an argument brings relationship difficulties to the surface. If this happens, talk truthfully about your feelings, show each other that you care and be open to making adjustments to the relationship.

Some people are reluctant to enter any conflict. Do you know a couple who claim ‘never to argue’? Perhaps they fear that their relationship is so fragile that it could not survive an argument. This is a very common belief. The danger here is that repressed feelings can simmer below the surface for years and suddenly blow up in inappropriate behaviour. It is sad that these couples are not allowing themselves the beauty of being really truthful with each other.

The quality of all your relationships depends on your ability to communicate. Communicating well during a conflict includes the ability to listen and to let the other person know you have understood what they have said. It means being honest, not sidetracking, no put-downs, and genuinely being open to the other’s point of view. It isn’t always easy to accomplish – but it is always worthwhile.

Here are ten arguing styles to avoid if you want to keep your relationship healthy.

  1. Over-reacting
    “I want a divorce.” Have you ever been so exasperated in an argument with your partner that you were tempted to put the entire relationship on the line? Threatening to leave the relationship is a dangerous reaction. It may cause the other person to stop looking for a solution. Why should they try to resolve the argument if you are saying that you don’t feel the relationship has a future? There is also a danger that this type of threat will plant seeds of doubts in the other person’s mind – “maybe the relationship isn’t worth investing in”.
  2. Being unclear what you want
    When you want someone else to change their behaviour you must be explicit. Describe specific situations and behaviours rather than make generalisations about them. One tried and tested method is the ‘I…when…because’ formula. This is a three-part statement that describes your feelings, a description of the behaviour/situation and a statement of the tangible effects. First describe your feeling – ‘I feel frustrated…” Then describe the behaviour in very specific terms – “when you are not ready to leave by 7.30…” The next part of the message describes the outcome “because I have to change my plans for the day”. The use of ‘I ’ brings the focus on to you and it decreases the possibility of the other person feeling blamed or criticised. This formula also allows you to take ownership of the problem.
  3. Not being prepared
    If at all possible, prepare yourself for the discussion. Work out exactly what it is you want to get across and what you want to achieve and be clear about your rights and the other person’s rights. Write down the words and use the ‘I…when…because’ formula. Do not exaggerate with statements such as “You are late all the time”. Think about the possible responses the other person may make and be ready. Ask yourself “Is this really what I want or is this hiding another deeper issue?”
  4. Keeping a score card
    Don’t store your grievances. Some people ‘collect’ grievances – he forgot your birthday – she was late for dinner. If it happened last week or last year it cannot be changed. Those old grievances will only complicate the issue at hand. Focus on what is happening now. Demeaning remarks, such as “…and you are overweight/lazy/bad parent/etc” that are totally off the point will linger long after the argument is over. Don’t argue over trivia, for example, what day it was you forgot to buy milk.
  5. Not listening
    Allow your partner to express his or her feelings. Don’t interrupt. It is helpful if each person re-states what the other person has said in his or her own words. This shows that you understand what has been said and allows the other person to feel heard. This may seem awkward but you almost certainly already use this skill. What happens when someone gives you instructions? You repeat them to make sure you have heard correctly. Checking what you feel has been said greatly reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings. Acknowledge when the other person makes a valid point – this shows that you are listening and open-minded (you are, aren’t you?)
  6. Labelling the other person
    Calling the other person ‘stupid’ or ‘paranoid’ will only make the other person feel defensive and ready to counter-attack. Swearing and yelling will take the attention away from the issue. Studies have shown that people who do not have good communication skills often resort to personal attacks because that is the only way they know how to deal with conflict.
  7. Introducing a third party into the argument
    Don’t be tempted to bring in other people’s opinions to bolster your respective positions. “My mother always said you were lazy.” This type of remark can damage other relationships, long after your argument is forgotten.
  8. Making Assumptions
    We can never be sure of another’s motives so it is pointless saying “You are still trying to get back at me because…” Telling another person why they did or said something is likely to aggravate the situation. People often think that the other person must know that they are being offensive. “He knows that it really upsets me. He just doesn’t care.” Frequently, the other person does not know and expresses surprise once told – “I had no idea that annoyed you”.
  9. Allowing feelings to escalate to a dangerous level
    It is okay to call a time-out if you find yourself about to say or do something you may later regret. Remove yourself by saying “I am feeling very angry at the moment and I want to take a time-out.” If the other person is becoming angry you could say: “I can see you are very angry right now. I want to take a time-out”. Then make a definite time to continue the conversation. Once that is done, go and do something that will defuse the angry energy – walking, shopping, etc.
  10. Insisting on having the last word
    The last word is; don’t insist on the last word. Remember – it is irrelevant who wins the argument if your relationship gets lost in the process.

When arguing is over, agree to put the issue behind you. Acknowledge that it was difficult, that you have both come to a conclusion and that it is now time to move on.

Be sure that you both agree upon what was decided. Offering a summary of what has been said lessens the chance of disagreement later on. A client of mine wrote the conclusion of their conflict on paper and asked her husband to sign it. It seems formal but this way, she could be sure that he would not dispute the agreement in the future.

Assess your performance. Did you listen to each other carefully? Were you able to focus on the issues instead of personalities and past behaviours? Did either of you lose your temper? Ask yourself “Was this the right solution for the relationship?” Even if one of you is not completely satisfied with the outcome, remember that it gave you and your partner a worthwhile opportunity to talk and work through a problem together. Understand that the relationship is probably stronger because of it.


Karen Rendall is a counsellor living in Turramurra, NSW.

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