Once in a while, I get into an argument. Sometimes, it’s a hundred times a week. I like to think I know a little something about arguments and how to resolve them. Here are a few things I have managed to learn in my journeys:
Fact: The people you will argue the hardest with, unless you’re a politician or protester (but even still, I think I’m right about this), are the people you love.
Avoid an entire argument. Take the above note about “arguing worst with the people you love” into consideration when you have something mean to say about that person. And even if, by chance, you do have some evidence that you are right, it’s all about the approach. “You always” and “I hate when you” are phrases that (1) you are hurting someone with, and (2) will effectively take the argument nowhere productive.
Saying “I feel” or an equivalent at the beginning of a sentence and not following immediately with “like you always” will get you further in conflict resolution than accusing someone of something whether or not it is true. I repeat: Don’t say “you always”, ever. Make the point you have a general statement instead of one strictly about that person. E.g. “I feel like you aren’t happy about going to the hockey game. Is everything OK?” instead of “You always have a frown on your face about everything. What’s your problem this time?” How would you personally respond to each? Probably not nicely to the second statement.
Besides, the problem you’re having likely isn’t with ‘every time’ you go to a hockey game, that person has a frown on her face. ‘Today’ brought the issue up (re-surfaced or not), and you would like to resolve today’s problem. Perhaps by resolving today’s issue, you can look back upon ‘every time’ and see what was wrong all along, yes?
It works in defense as well. E.g. “I feel stupid when you tell me I chew too loudly in public,” instead of “You always have to say something to embarrass me in front of other people!” Another example: “I felt bad when despite my efforts you said I didn’t [recycle properly, drive properly, cook dinner right; whatever your situation]“. Again, think of how you would react to someone saying either thing in retort to something you said: Escalation or a bit more reserved?
Accept things about yourself. Sometimes others are right. Try to figure out what you can do to improve if you realize it’s something you’d like to improve upon. Ask the person, “What can I do to change?” If the person offers no suggestion, as is common, you have two options: (1) Think to yourself, “How can I improve on this?”; (2) figure it was a criticism, not a constructive comment, therefore it’s their problem, and move on. To hell with the realization that you should probably do something a better way.
The first is the better option. Remember: People are historically great at criticizing and tremendously awful at offering any real solution. You may want to resolve things by not escalating outwardly, but you can still upstage them internally. Change what it is if it will make you feel better so that you can honestly say to yourself while they might have once been right, they now are wrong.
Another big thing: Not saying sorry when you realize you’re creating more problems than are worthy of the original situation. Just apologize. It’s not very hard. “I’m sorry.” You’d be surprised what those words can fix. And offer some reassurance. Mean what you say.
No resolution? Take the high ground. Don’t escalate, don’t sit silently burning angry thoughts through your brain. Go somewhere else and do something else (read, write a letter to that person which you’ll never show them, light said letter on fire in a non-flammable container preferably outside, blog about the experience even if you save it as ‘Private’), but not before saying “I’ve made my points, I had hoped we’d resolve this, and if you want to discuss it more, we can. Until then, I’ll be [going for a walk, sleeping on the couch, waiting for your call, in the other room; sculpting a statue of you with bananas sticking out of your eye sockets and nostrils].” Maybe don’t use the last example in that quote.
If they don’t want to resolve it after that, chalk it all up to their lack of communication skills, consider their criticisms of you idle and move on. Any criticisms given clearly didn’t have any real basis beyond that person’s need to argue. Some people are bored, really bored. Remember that.
Big Life Tip: Use common sense. The people you fight with most are the people most hurt by you. If that’s somebody close to you, approach the situation like you actually care about making an improvement, not just about making a criticism.
This has been my tongue-in-cheek-yet-somewhat-serious Comma Guide To Conflict Resolution with Loved Ones. Did I cover all the bases? What other tips would you share?