Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Proper Argument

Let’s face it, kittens. Everyone argues – and I’m sure we all argue more than we’d like to. Personally, with two ex-husbands, a teenage daughter, and a wonderful sister with whom I didn’t always see eye-to-eye; I’ve certainly had more than a fair share of arguments. In all honesty, many of my arguments have been over petty things, and should have never occurred. I’m sure you can relate to that.

In my years (and years, and years) of arguing, I’ve actually learned quite a few things. These things, coupled with a few effective communication seminars I’ve attended have helped me realize that arguments, although unavoidable, do not have to be as hurtful, long, and painful as we tend to make them. How? The concepts are easy to understand, but difficult to put into practice. I promise, if you try hard enough at them and share them with the people in your life, you’ll find yourself with less severe arguments.

Before I begin, I need to put the “footnote” in here. I know there will always be major arguments or fights that are unavoidable; they will hurt and will be long and difficult. I’ll also be the first to admit that sometimes my emotions get the better of me and I don’t put into practice these principles. However, by keeping some of these things in mind, you will find yourself in a better place with the relationships in your life; especially when you can’t avoid the arguments. I can go on and on about all the things that you should and shouldn’t do with an argument – or any communication for that matter – but I’ll try to keep to just the major impact points for now.

The Facts versus The Stories This is something that I’ll get into deeper in a different post, but the simple version is this. Stick to the facts of a situation, versus making up your version of “why” the person did something. “I’m pissed off that you were 20 minutes late to the restaurant and we missed our reservation”. That’s a fact, and a valid emotion. This is a story “I can’t believe that Stacy is more important than me and you couldn’t tear yourself away from her in enough time to get here. We’ve missed our reservation and might as well just go home and starve for the rest of the night”. I know, you’re probably giggling, but let’s admit, we all over react and say stuff like that. How do you know that Stacy was the reason the person was late to the restaurant? Maybe the person was in an accident on the way? Maybe the other person got caught by a train? Maybe Stacy is the reason, but it’s because her cat was hit by a car and she needed to be comforted until someone else got home. Sticking to the facts versus making up your own reasons why the other person did or didn’t do something will curb a lot of frustration and arguments on its own.

Leave the Past Alone This is probably one of the BIGGEST mistakes people make when they are arguing with someone. They constantly bring up things the other person has done wrong in the past. “Remember that time in 1805 when I asked you to be sure the bed warmer under the comforter and you forgot? My feet were cold all night long and I ended up with the Plague”. “I apologized for that, and still feel really horrible about it – even 206 years later” “I know, but you still forgot to do it, and my feet were blue when we wok…..” You get the idea. The past is just that, the past. Everyone makes mistakes, and we apologize for them; and hopefully are forgiven (forgiving some things may take longer than others, I realize that). Keep in mind that actions or words that occurred in the past cannot be changed; if the other person has apologized for it, there is no reason to continuously bring it up – unless your intent is to specifically hurt them and make them feel terrible about themselves. If that is your intent, you should really reconsider your approach to things; would you like it if others did that to you? They do? Does it make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? No .. it doesn’t.. so you shouldn’t do it to others, right? Right.

Actually and Actively Listen How often during an argument do you stop listening to the other person and start formulating what you’re going to say in response to them? If you don’t hear what they are saying, there is no way you’re able to actually understand their emotions, their line of thinking, or even their apology if that’s what they are saying. When you speak, you like to know others are listening and hearing what you are saying, it’s only proper to do that in return. Interrupting the other person to make your point (or to make your point AGAIN) diminishes their worth and in return, the argument will slide down the “you’re not even hearing the things I am saying” slope. We’ve all been there. Active listening is an entirely different blog (I’ll get to it eventually), but the basics are this: stop thinking about yourself and listen to what the other person is saying. Respond by validating their words (“You said that you were angry that I forgot to let the dog out, I understand, I would be angry too if it happened the other way around” versus “Last week YOU forgot to clean the litter box and your cat peed in my shoes, so I guess we’re even”. 2 rules broken right there – don’t bring up the past (assuming the dog thing is the actual argument) and not validating the other’s words) and their emotions. Everyone speaks from their own truth, and what might not seem like a very big deal to you may be to the other person, and to take that truth away from them is not fair.

Don’t Attack Character or Call Names and Button Pushing Calling names (especially hateful names like “a**h*le” or “b***h”) or attacking each other’s character is just another way of intentionally inflicting pain on the other person. What’s the purpose other than to make them feel horrible about themselves? I’m assuming by this time in the conversation, everyone’s emotions are high, most likely someone is crying, and all that is being accomplished with this is to tear down someone’s self esteem and invite them to do to the same to you. The same thing applies to what I consider Button Pushing. It’s knowing the things that make the other person feel bad, angry, or upset, and intentionally bringing them up. For example, the person the following statement is directed towards has self esteem issues about their weight. The argument is about whether or not the dog should be kenneled at night so it stops eating the couch (and nothing to do with diets, exercise, etc.) Button Pushing would go something like this (extreme example) “Maybe if you weren’t so fat and always ate your chips on the couch, Polly wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about chewing the couch”. I said it was extreme, but you get the point. A more subtle, but just as damaging, example: “Polly chews the couch because she doesn’t get enough exercise, you should know what that’s like”. Keep the argument to the facts at hand; don’t try to hurt each other.

NEVER use these words I’m guilty of using words during an argument that I would never ever say to someone in a regular conversation. I’ve also witnessed enough arguments to know I’m not the only one that uses these words. These are the worst of the worst during an argument and can cut deep, and wound for a long time. Shut-up and Hate. Telling someone to shut-up (shut your mouth, etc.) is demeaning and more hurtful than you realize. When you tell someone to shut-up, you’re basically letting them know that whatever they say is invaluable and you don’t want to hear it. Even if that is the case (but seriously – invaluable? If you believed that you would never speak to them) there are better ways of telling them. In my experience shut-up is usually used to stop someone from interrupting when you’re trying to say something. So try “Can you just let me say what I need to say, then I’ll listen to your side”. Hate is a word that I try to never ever use...especially during an argument. It’s just a horrible mean thing to say to someone “I hate you. I hate the way you talk to me. I hate the fact that .. “ etc. Use ‘don’t like’, use can’t stand’ … but please please please don’t use hate.

I’ll leave you, after all this rambling with this. End the argument. Simply say “Can we not argue about this anymore? I’m done trying to fight about something that we can easily fix if we both calm down (notice “if we both calm down.” Don’t use “if you calm down)”. End on a good note, and be sure to apologize to each other when you’re ready to. “I’m sorry I said things that might have hurt you, etc.” It’s just good for the relationship.

Be at peace with yourself and you’ll be at peace with the world.

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