I dont want to argue

5 Ways to Stop an Argument in Less Than a Minute

Pat LaDouceur, PhD, helps people dealing with anxiety, panic, and relationship stress who want to feel more focused and confident. She has a private practice ...Read More

The trouble with arguments is that they don’t work.

I’m not talking about a good debate, where you have some great ideas, and they clash, and you start a healthy back-and-forth that feels fun. I mean arguments – where tension starts to rise, responses start to get personal, and you go around in circles without getting anywhere.

Often this kind of conflict takes on a life of it’s own, where you end up arguing about who does more of the chores or what time you came home last night, while bigger issues like caring, teamwork, and appreciation hide under the surface.

This is what many of the couples I work with mean when they say, “we can’t communicate. ” They start what seems like a simple conversation, and within minutes it escalates into criticism, blame, hostility, or stonewalling.

It’s not just couples either – unwanted arguments happen in families, between friends, and at work. With some skill, though, you can learn to stop them, so you can get on with solving the real concerns.

What doesn’t work

Have you ever felt like you know you’re right, but the other person doesn’t understand? Or maybe every once in awhile you just have to have something go your way? For some people, the feeling of urgency nudges them into using some of these tactics:

  • speaking more loudly
  • bringing up evidence
  • speaking with a tone of urgency
  • refusing to let the topic drop
  • following the other person from room to room

These strategies create problems, though. A raised voice can sound like an attack. Evidence provides an opportunity to get sidetracked by debating the evidence. Urgency often comes across as impatience or frustration.

If the conversation stays on track, you can keep trying to solve the problem. If it turns into an argument, you might need something another strategy.

A game changing strategy

One of the kids in our neighborhood has a great way of handling the frustration of not getting his way. Like many six-year-olds, he loves winning. Young kids about this age are often obsessed with winning, losing, and rules. If there is a contest, Frankie naturally wants to come out on top.

Of course, the ball doesn’t always bounce that way. When Frankie plays Four-Square with his family, sometimes he misses a few returns. He doesn’t want to compromise his winning or his generally buoyant mood, so he just announces some new rules, and with such humor that everyone laughs. This game – the one where Frankie always wins – is known as “Frankieball.”

Adults, or course, have to use more finesse. The “I Win No Matter What” game is not so endearing when you’re twenty, or perhaps fifty.

Still, there’s a middle ground. When the game isn’t working – when discussions veer into argument territory – it’s helpful to pause and consider some new rules. Sometimes it’s better not to play at all.

New plays

There are many ways to graciously step back from an argument. Here are four simple statements you can use that will stop an argument 99 percent of the time.

1. “Let me think about that.”

This works in part because it buys time. When you’re arguing, your body prepares for a fight: your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure increases, you might start to sweat. In short, you drop into fight-or-flight mode. Marriage researcher John Gottman calls this “flooding”. Your mental focus narrows, so that you think about the danger in front of you rather than nuances and possibilities. Because of this, the ability to problem-solve plummets.

When there is no lion about to pounce, flooding gets in your way. Taking time to think allows your body to calm down. It also sends a message that you care enough to at least consider someone else’s point of view, which is calming for the other person in the argument.

2. “You may be right.”

This works because it shows willingness to compromise. This signal is enough to soften most people’s position, and allow them to take a step back as well.

Yet it’s hard to do. Sometimes my clients worry that giving an inch is very close to giving in. In my view, it’s usually the opposite: acknowledging someone else’s point of view usually leads to a softening. Look at some examples:

  • Comment: Blue jeans aren’t appropriate to wear to work.
  • Response: You may be right.
  • Comment: This project is going to be late.
  • Response: I’m working on it, but you may be right.
  • Comment: You didn’t handle that very well.
  • Response: You may be right.

Notice that with this Aikido-like sidestep, you are not agreeing that the other person is right. You’re only acknowledging that there might be something to their point of view, and implying that you’ll consider what they said.

3. “I understand.”

These are powerful words. They work because they offer empathy. They stop an argument by changing it’s direction – trying to understand someone else’s point of view isn’t an argument. They are sometimes hard to say, because pausing to understand can sometimes feel like giving in. It’s important to remember that:

  • Understanding doesn’t mean you agree.
  • Understanding doesn’t mean you have to solve the problem.

With the pressure to assert yourself or fix it out of the way, you can just listen.

4. “I’m sorry.”

These words are perhaps the most powerful in the English language. One administrator I know says that half his job is apologizing to people.

Many people are reluctant to apologize, fearing that an apology is an admission of guilt and an acceptance of complete responsibility. This view unfortunately often makes the problem worse.

Apologies sometimes just express sympathy and caring: “I’m sorry you didn’t get that job.”

More often, though, apologies mean owning some part of the responsibility: “I’m sorry my comment came across that way. It’s not what I meant.”

Occasionally an apology is an admission of complete responsibility, and in those cases a heartfelt expression of regret becomes all the more important: “You’re right, I didn’t get it done on time. I’ll do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” Apologies change the game from “It’s Not My Fault” to “I Understand.” Apologies are powerful; they have prevented lawsuits, improved business communication, and healed personal rifts.

Home run

Of course, sidestepping an argument is only the first step in sorting through an emotionally charged issue. Sometimes you have to dig beneath the surface so that you can talk about the beliefs and feelings underneath. Then there’s work to be done in negotiating a compromise or coming to an agreement. However, arguments keep you spinning in circles, and usually make the problem worse.

Sometimes the only way not to lose is to stop playing the game. Like Frankie, you can change the rules. Instead of, “One of Us Has to Win,” you can play, “Let’s Take Some Time with This.” With a simple statement, you can buy time, show willingness to compromise, offer empathy, or own part of the problem. These strategies are the basis of good communication. When the object of the game is to stop arguing, both players can win.

Keep Reading By Author Pat LaDouceur, Ph.D.

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Fighting Fair in A Relationship: How to Get What You Need and Stay Close While You Do It

by Karen Young



I used to have this idea that real love was when two people remembered birthdays, anniversaries, and never fought. Fighting, even if it was fighting fair, was for the more incompatible.

Fast forward a couple of decades and what can I say? Not a lot really because I’m almost choking on the naïvety of it all. But let me explain …

My parents never fought, so I had good reason to believe that a fight-free relationship was possible. They never said a bad word about each or to each other. They didn’t say many words to each other at all. They didn’t hold hands. Or each other. They didn’t laugh together or ‘hang out’ together. I never heard them say, ‘I love you’ and I didn’t see them smother each other’s bad days with kisses. Eventually, they divorced. I know they were in love with each other once, it’s just that somewhere along the way they stumbled and fell out of it.

Clearly, it was pretty easy not to fight. They did it. I could do it. Because I would be in ‘real love’.

And then I met the man who would become my husband. And then we had our first fight. And quite a few more since.  

The love is real and so are the fights. What wasn’t real was that idea of real love that used to throw itself into my ‘one days’ like pixie dust. 

Fighting is a part of any relationship. It’s going to happen, but it doesn’t have to lessen it. Having know-how around fighting fair can not only save a relationship, but also make sure you both get what you need and bring you closer. Few things will fuel intimacy, connection and closeness like being seen, being heard and coming through a storm side by side.

Researchers have found that one of the best predictors of divorce is not whether a couple fights, but how they fight.

All couples have probably fought dirty at least once, but the relationship will struggle when this way of relating becomes characteristic.

Everyone has needs and getting them met in the context of a relationship is important. Unmet needs will fester and push for resolution in some way. This might take the form of barbed comments here and there, criticism, or a distancing. You won’t always agree – and that’s fine – but being able to fight fairly for the important things, or through to the end of the unimportant things, is critical for the longevity of your relationship.  Here are the do’s and don’ts of fighting fair.

  1. Don’t fear conflict.

    Conflict is an opportunity for growth. When you intimately share your life with someone there are going to be disagreements. Sometimes a lot of them. Conflict is normal. healthy and sometimes necessary when there is something important at stake for one or both of you. It isn’t always easy to do, but receiving conflict well or raising a difficult issue sensitively will provide the opportunity to see each other, notice each other and learn from each other. 

  2. Attack the issue, not each other.

    Don’t name call or bring the other person down to get on top of the argument. The potential to cause scars is enormous. It’s too easy to say things that can’t be taken about.

  3. Stay with the issue at hand.

    Don’t bring in irrelevant details just to prove your point. It’s so tempting to confirm your ‘rightness’ by highlighting the other person’s ‘wrongness’, but don’t. It’s the quickest way to send an argument off track and land you in a place where you forget what you were fighting for. 

  4. Don’t confuse the topics with the issue.

    If you keep fighting over different things but you always seem to end up on the same issue (e.g. money or the night he/you came home late), that issue is actually where your work needs to be. Something about that issue is unresolved and the topics – the little things that start the arguments (e.g. the towels on the floor) – are just the way the issue calls you both back to the plate to deal with it. The topics aren’t the problem. The issue is. Find out exactly what it is (though you will probably already have a fair idea!) and deal with it. Give what’s needed for the issue to let go of the grip it has on your relationship, whether that’s air time, validation, acknowledgement, an apology or reassurance.

  5. Don’t downplay the issue.

    For an issue to be an issue it only takes one of you to believe it is. You don’t need to agree but you do need to listen. Let your partner know you’ve heard them and that you understand. People don’t stop feeling a certain way just because they’re told to stop. (Would be nice if it was that simple though!) If an issue is ignored it won’t go away. Needs always push for completion – it’s just the way it is. If feelings or needs aren’t resolved, they will come out through other topics (that fiery argument about being ten minutes late to dinner isn’t really about dinner), or they’ll brew. Sometimes all it takes is validation or acknowledgement. ‘I know how important this is to you, I’m just really stuck with what to do about it.’

  6. Don’t withdraw. Or chase.

    This is different to taking time out to cool down and get your thoughts together. People withdraw when they feel attacked, bored or disinterested and will pull back in an attempt to maintain autonomy, control and distance. Research has found a direct association between withdrawal and lower relationship satisfaction. If the silent treatment is your typical response, it will do damage. If you’re feeling attacked, try to find a way to discuss this without going on the attack yourself. If you’re bored or disinterested, is it with the issue or the relationship? What is it about either that is making you want to pull back?

    If your partner is withdrawing, is it possible that he or she feels attacked? One way to change that is to name your contribution to the issue, however small. ‘I know I probably haven’t helped things by …’ or, ‘I know I upset you when I …’ This makes it easier for your partner to trust that you aren’t only out for blood.

  7. Be open about what you need. Nobody can read your mind.

    Conflicts in which one person expects another to know what is wrong without being told are more likely to end with anger or negative communication. Research has shown that people who expect a partner to mind read are more likely to feel anxious or neglected.

  8. Find the real emotion beneath the anger.

    It can be hard not to turn away when someone is angry with you (I may have done it once or twice or too many times myself) but anger is a secondary emotion – it never exists on its own and always has another emotion beneath it. The common culprits are sadness, hurt, insecurity, jealousy or frustration. If you can notice the real emotion you’ll have a better chance of responding to the real issue. Don’t turn your back, look away or pretend you’re doing something important while your partner is spilling himself or herself to you – you might miss something important that clues you in on what’s really going on. Few things deepen a connection more than being seen.

  9. Be attentive.

    Unless your teen is face-timing you from the tattoo parlour with a short list and it’s the first you’ve heard of any of it, don’t look at your phone, or anything else that will take you away from the heat. If your body shows up to the plate but your mind is on what to have for dinner, a couple of things could happen – none of them good. One is that the argument will keep going until your attention is turned to face. Another is that the argument will stop being about the issue at hand and will become about the way you ‘never listen’, or ‘don’t care’ – or anything else that fits your process. Avoid the fallout by being attentive. 

  10. Don’t yell.

    Start yelling and before you know it, you’ll be arguing about arguing. If the argument is at yelling point, nobody is being heard because nobody is listening. At this point, someone needs to be the hero and calm it all down. ‘I’m trying to understand what you want but we have to stop yelling first.’ Otherwise, suggest you both take a break but make sure that you name a time to come back to it. Don’t let it get swept under the rug. Rugs don’t tend to fade issues into nothingness – they hide the detail but not the fact that something is in the way.

  11. Stay away from ‘you always’ or ‘you never’.

    Make a generalisation and you can bet that what will come next is an explanation of the exception. Use specific examples or if your partner is doing the generalising, ask for specific examples. Nobody is ‘always’ or ‘never’ anything and using these words will just inflame.

  12. Be curious.

    Ask for more details. It’s tempting to launch into a defence when there’s a hint of attack but this is rarely helpful and usually escalates the argument. It also means that while the other person is speaking, you are probably formulating your response rather than listening. Slow things down and ask for details. This shows that you’re open to getting things sorted out.

  13. Fully and honestly accept that nobody is perfect. Seriously. Nobody.

    Be open to accepting criticism. Is it the feedback that’s difficult to stomach or the way it’s delivered. Try to hear the message, even if it is being delivered in a way that is hard to hear. If you are the one with the wise words, say it in a way that can be heard by being generous in the delivery. ‘I know you probably didn’t mean it the way it came across but when you …’ or ‘I miss you when we fight. Can we talk about it?’

  14. Watch out for the passive-aggressive.

    Know that if you have to say, ‘I’m just being honest …’, or ‘I’m not criticising you but …’ or ‘You’re probably not going to like hearing this but …’ – you’re in no way softening the blow. You’re also not fooling anyone – all of these statements generally come just before an accusation. In fact, you’ll probably feel your partner bracing for the next round before the final word has left your mouth.

  15. If you’re wrong, apologise.

    Be humble. Be honest. Fullstop.

  16. If you’re going around in circles, stop.

    Cycles become vicious ones before you know it. If you or your partner are repeating the same things, you’re stuck in a loop. People repeat things because they don’t feel heard. Slow things down and communicate to your partner your understanding of their side of things. Then hopefully they will slow down to hear yours. If you’re the one who isn’t feeling heard, try finding a different way to say it and check you aren’t too much on the attack. You have nothing to lose – cycles are breeders and they tend to make uglier ones. Stop them before they spin out of control.

  17. Find the common ground.

    There’s usually something you can find to agree on, even if it’s that you don’t want to fight. ‘So we both agree that …’ Anything that will help to get you both back on the same team is a good thing. It’s also a way to validate your partner and let them know you see them.

  18. Give in or compromise on something – however small.

    Finding something you can give on will help progress the situation along. Generally in a fight, the more one person pulls, the more the other pulls in the other direction. Take a step, however small, back to the middle ground by offering a compromise. Any small concession is the groundwork for bigger ones.

  19. Don’t leave it unfinished.

    Find a resolution, otherwise it will continue to press for closure.

And finally …

Fighting is inevitable and not all healthy couples fight fair all of the time. Doors may get slammed. Things may be said. And plastic containers may get thrown across the room. Having know-how around fighting fair is a powerful thing. It will bring you closer to being able to get what you want and at the same time solidify your relationship. Anything that can bring you through to the other side of an argument still holding hands – or wanting to hold hands – is certainly worth the effort.

Why we don't know how to argue correctly

Why we don't know how to argue correctly | Big Ideas Communications
Andrey Sharonov
Photo: Shannon Litt / Unsplash

I remember how my parents quarreled in my childhood - not very often, but significant: my father, anticipating an unpleasant conversation, pouted, sternly and showed that the last thing he would do in this world - try to negotiate. And in protest, he refused the family dinner and went to another room.

I took it over without even noticing it - I didn't defiantly refuse dinner, of course, but I also played the silent game. And it took a long time to get out of this state. What was going on in my head at such moments shows how easy it is to get a moral indulgence for any behavior: “I do not argue not from weakness, but because I am offended, it is beneath my dignity to negotiate.” And this, of course, was quite a dead end situation, for which I am still ashamed. Many years passed before I realized that silence is a sign of weakness, a form of disrespect for a partner and shifting responsibility for the conflict to him.

Years later, I also often caught myself that at moments when the atmosphere in the meeting rooms was tense and it was impossible to bring positions closer, I really wanted to stop this process: either abandon the discussion, or break loose, give free rein to emotions and slide into an ordinary quarrel . This did not lead to positive results, so at some point I forced myself to analyze my behavior and learned to drag myself into difficult conversations that require a lot of nervous energy and are difficult both psychologically and physically.

I understood several things: we don't know how to distinguish between a dispute and a quarrel, and we don't know how to argue correctly, if only because no one specifically teaches us this. The maximum that you can count on is role models of loved ones. In most cases, once inside a complex conversation, we want to prove our case and switch from the object of the dispute to the subject. It's the easiest thing to do, it's our emotions that provoke us, and it's usually the easiest solution.

This is clearly seen in the style of rhetoric in public space. At all levels, we see examples of "going personal" and looking for someone to blame. It is not what the person said or did that is discussed and condemned, but he himself, the label of the “enemy” is immediately hung on him. Individuals are either slandered or used as a threat and a pretext for mobilization.

It turns out such Bolshevism: whoever is not with us is against us. Black or white, friend or foe. If we don't like your position, then we don't like you. From the outside, watching especially aggressive attacks in a public discussion, it seems that the attacker acts this way because the presence of a different opinion in his life threatens his personal safety.

Why empathy is beneficial

The world has long been ambiguous and certainly not binary. The fact that it is easier for us to reduce discussions to concepts of win / lose is our bad habit, leading both to bad relationships and narrowing our choices.

This is not an abstract reality, this is the behavior of others, colleagues, and even ourselves — and, unfortunately, I am far from an exception here. To understand how this applies to you personally, answer a few questions.

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About the author

Andrey Sharonov — Professor, Director General of the Alliance for Sustainable Development.

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Brexit lesson: how to argue with friends and not fight

  • Francesca Gillett
  • BBC

Image copyright, Getty Images

Image caption,

Is it worth trying to reach an understanding?

"We rarely see our family these days," says a middle-aged French woman living in Norfolk, east Britain. She did not want to reveal her name.

In the Brexit referendum, this woman voted against Brexit. And now, she says, she feels like her tongue is being taken away when she hears from friends and family members (husband is British) about their views on Brexit.

"I think my husband tries very hard to keep me away from his parents to avoid conflict," she says.

On the other side is a 59-year-old Brexiteer from north London. He says his Czech-born girlfriend "got a little mad at him" after the referendum. "According to her, I actually voted to send her back. But we are still together. We do not discuss this topic," he says.

For more than three years, Brexit has provoked conflicts between relatives and friends.

Even Prime Minister Boris Johnson's family avoids talking about it, his sister Rachel said last week. And the younger brother of the prime minister, Joe Johnson, left his post in government and parliament.

  • "Boris, you're wrong." How Brexit Divided the Johnson Family
  • Brother for Brother: British Family Politics
  • Johnson, Johnson and Johnson... A Family Divided by Brexit

How to handle difficult political debates like Brexit ? Experts explain what techniques are available for this.

1. Listen and don't interrupt

Photo credit, Getty Images

Photo caption,

Sometimes it's good to repeat in your own words what your opponent has just told you

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What was that?

We quickly, simply and clearly explain what happened, why it is important and what will happen next.


End of Story Podcast

The most common mistakes people make when arguing are often the most obvious ones.

The most common is when the parties don't listen to each other and often interrupt, says Jonathan Herring, Oxford University law professor and author of How to Argue.

"When you interrupt someone, you are essentially letting them know that you don't care what the other person says, and that creates a negative atmosphere," explains Prof. Herring.

"It's more useful to repeat in your own words what your opponent has just told you. You need to understand where he comes from. People who know how to listen can find a common language, because there will be aspects that both sides agree on," he believes he.

"With regard to Brexit, both of you may be concerned about immigration and economic stability. By admitting this, you will find mutual understanding," says the researcher.

It is important to try to understand what points are especially important to the interlocutor, and give your arguments based on them: "If a person does not care about the economy, your economic statistics will not help in arguing with him. "

2. Remember that people are not caricatures

The author of the photo, Getty Images imagine their opponents as such caricatures, says Jonathan Herring.

"Thus, if someone says that he is for Brexit, his opponent immediately concludes that this person is most likely a racist or holds very outdated views. Of the opponents of Brexit, the opponent often thinks that he is a supporter of extremely liberal views and ready to open all borders for immigration," says the scientist.

Founder of the Academy of Ideas and Brexit MEP Claire Fox agrees that labeling doesn't help anyone. She gives an example of how often Brexiteers are called xenophobes and racists.

"I understand that the anti-Brexiters must also feel bad about being called either alarmists and whiners complaining that the consequences of Brexit are bound to be terrible, or a high-browed and disconnected elite from the big cities," she says.

According to her, it is important to show respect and show that you take your opponent seriously: "If you feel that you are being spoken to in an arrogant or contemptuous way, that you are not taken seriously in this discussion, it puts you on the defensive."

"Treat each other as individuals, not as members of one camp or another," Fox advises.

3. Convincing is not the most important thing

Image copyright, Getty Images

It's important to be inquisitive and interested in trying to understand why your opponent doesn't think the way you do, says Gabriel Rifkind, an expert on finding conflict resolution in the Middle East. She voted for Britain to stay in the EU, but now she sees how Brexit has exposed and deepened the cracks in British society.

The tone is also important - avoid being hostile and critical, says Rifkind. And success should be measured not only by whether it was possible to convince the interlocutor: “It is very difficult to come to terms with a different point of view. People’s beliefs are often laid deep inside and can be associated with personality traits. But we drive ourselves into a trap, thinking that if we don’t succeed in getting the interlocutor to agree with us, no progress is made."

"At the end of the day, a good conversation is one in which people get closer on a human level. But that doesn't mean we should all think the same way," Rifkind emphasizes.

4. Admit defeat

If you lose an argument, it doesn't mean you need to change your mind, but it's important to recognize that the outcome of the argument is not in your favor, says Brexit Party's Fox.

I must say: I accept defeat, but in the future I will return with new arguments and win more people over to my side in the dispute, she adds.

5. Stop in time

Image credit: Getty Images

Talking to loved ones about difficult political topics is important, says Oxford University's Herring. But even more important is to know when to stop, realizing that family relationships are at stake.

"If you see that your interlocutor is very easily upset, it might be better to close the topic," he says.

When the conversation gets personal, family conflict resolution specialist Louise Weinstein offers a technique for repeating what you hear.

"For example: that is, you want to say that you hate me and don't want to have anything to do with me? The interlocutor will hear and, most likely, say: well, no, you're just making me wildly angry now," she gives an example.

Weinstein also suggests negotiating a time frame for family disputes: "Has it been 15 minutes? That's it, time to go to the movies."

There is a great temptation to turn your back on your family and generally only associate with those who share your point of view, Fox warns:

"Because the atmosphere is very unpleasant, painful - and so many fights, especially on social networks, take an ugly form.

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