How to Argue Effectively

Most people having an argument start with the problem at hand and then progress to arguing about many other things. All the old hurts and slights bubble to the surface, leaving one or both parties with bruised egos and even more hostility.

State the Problem

Arguments that degenerate into shouting, tears and name-calling are not only immature, they are counterproductive. Where arguments are unavoidable, stating one’s point of view in a logical (and credible) fashion can sometimes end the argument before it begins, because one or both combatants suddenly realize that they are talking about the same thing, but using different words.

Defuse hostility

Arguments are more productive when at least one party is not angry. Obviously, this will be the individual who does not have a vested interest in winning. There are several strategies this person can take, including:

Stay calm, avoiding aggressive eye contact like intense staring or darting glances, and use subdued body language like tilting one’s head to the side in a receptive, curious manner.

Listen to one’s opponent quietly, no matter how bizarre or offensive the content is – you will get your turn.

Be patient. Hostilities and differences don’t develop in a day, and can’t be eradicated in a single session.

Once the other person has expressed his or her position, take action. Don’t appear diffident or act aggressive, but do respond, and the sooner the better.

Sometimes losing is winning. Not all battles are worth fighting, and arguing with an irrational person only makes things worse.

Never walk away from an argument without some final input. Good choices to defuse the situation without verbally accepting defeat include “Let me think about that,” or
“You may be right.”

The phrase “I understand.” does not signal agreement, but can be the key to a graceful withdrawal.

Spotting the Irrational Individual

A very angry irrational person can crop up without warning. One can spot these people – and hopefully avoid them – by knowing the kinds of behaviors they engage in. For example, angry and irrational people will often:

Speak loudly, or even shout

Bring up unsubstantiated evidence

Refuse to let the argument go, and even physically follow one from place to place to
continue arguing

Harp on the issue, even where one has conceded some merit to the argument

Play the victim, to further engage one’s attention

Behave as though their ideas and attitudes have merit, even though most people would agree they are farfetched

Avoid the Narcissists

You may be perplexed by these combative individuals. Even the simplest statements seem destined for the battlefield. they never ask, “How are you?” instead they will respond with a laundry list of what they are thinking and doing.

These kinds of individuals are often narcissists – i.e., totally self-absorbed – and have no idea how their behavior affects others. Even worse, they have no idea that their behavior is outside the norm, and you can’t tell them because it begins another argument. Narcissistic or “toxic” people are controlling, negative, and jealous. They insist on being right all the time.

When all else fails, head for the middle ground. In many cases, this is another room or simply taking a walk to cool the situation down. Remember winning the argument isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

Couples Counseling Boulder by Therapist Christy Weller, Psy.D. Also specializing in Psychotherapy and Psychological Assessment Services