Bob Denny: Let’s not argue


Published: Friday, June 21, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 21, 2013 at 3:32 p.m.

Did you ever get ever get caught up in an argument? You may find yourself feeling trapped. You think you’re right. You feel a need to win. You just can’t let it go. You could end up saying harsh words that linger long after a silly little conflict. How about trying a better way?

What is arguing? An argument is a discussion with the purpose of convincing the other person that your way is right. (No, let’s not argue over the definition!)

Why do we feel a need to argue? Well, I don’t think there are any good reasons. We usually end up with more negative feelings after we argue. We may be motivated by feelings of frustration, disappointment, sadness, resentment, jealousy, inadequacy, shame, or guilt. We may argue to get revenge, belittle, hurt, or triumph over someone. We may be looking for ways to boost our own self-esteem. If we don’t resolve these bad feelings, they can turn into anger.

The way we handle the situation will depend on the relationship. Is the argument with an acquaintance, people in a work situation, or a close personal relationship? The way we handle the situation could build a positive, caring relationship, or make an enemy.

Depending on your goal for the outcome of the argument, it could go either way. If the relationship is important to you, and your goal is a happy life with growth, self-development and self-fulfillment, you’ll want each person to feel a happy successful outcome instead of bad feelings. Instead of arguing to win or to hurt another, or to force your own point of view, you can choose to see the situation as a challenge, and an opportunity to resolve your conflict in a positive way.

Find the good side of the situation. Work on finding a solution that works for the good of both parties. Decide to have a friendly, cooperative, pleasant discussion. Lighten up. Create a “win/win” situation. What would be the best solution for all? Find a way for both parties to feel respected, appreciated, and good about themselves.

Psychologists theorize that we argue in order to achieve the feelings we think we’ll have after the situation is over. Decide that you want yourself and the other person to feel happy, satisfied, cooperative, and positive about the relationship, instead of ending up with hurt feelings, resentment, frustration, guilt, or anger.

Winning an argument is almost always clouded by bad feelings. Even when you win, your satisfaction will be contaminated with unpleasant feelings like guilt. Is it worth winning an argument at such a cost to the other? Wouldn’t it be better if both parties felt better?

Communicate an understanding and appreciation for the other’s ideas and opinions. Keep your goal in mind: Find agreement, mutual satisfaction, and maintaining a good relationship. I always say “It’s nice to be important (or right) but it’s more important to be nice.”

So, here are some easy ways to turn arguments into cooperative problem solving:

Listen. Do you think that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we can listen twice as much as we talk?

Don’t take it personally. Don’t get defensive. It takes two to fight. Your friend will pick up on your attitude of respect and appreciation and respond.

Focus on the issues that you can agree on, not on your differences.

Aim at a better relationship, not on winning.

Stop defending your side of the argument. Look for agreement.

See an argument as an opportunity. It’s a chance to practice caring, respect and appreciation, and to develop skills in interpersonal relations and problem solving. It’s another step towards building a happier life for yourself and those around you.

Bob Denny is a licensed mental health therapist in Florida, and teaches psychology at Florida Gateway College (formerly Lake City Community College).

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