Win Every Argument May 10, 2009

Being right feels wonderful. Life would be sweet if every time we disagree with someone they would bow to our superior intellect and admit they are wrong. Since that seldom seems to happen, we learn how to argue, debate, bully, cajole, guilt trip, whine, seduce, deceive, punish and reward the ones we love to get our way.

Difference of opinion is not necessarily a bad thing. Conflicts arise in every relationship and expressing our needs is healthy and necessary. A pattern of arguing, though, can be hurtful and damaging to a relationship. It is helpful here to make the distinction between argument and compassionate conflict resolution.

Anatomy of an Argument

Arguments occur when the needs of one person are in conflict with the needs of another. For example, you’ve been cooped up inside all day and need to crank up some tunes. I need peace and quiet to finish writing a brilliant article about arguments. Who will win this conflict? If the music stays off, I win and if the music is turned up, you win. If we choose a pattern of argument, we could fall into using unproductive strategies.

The Debate Team Strategy This strategy is based on coming up with a devastating logical construct so clever it blows the other person out of the water. You win and your opponent loses. There are many books dedicated to debate tricks and deceptions that enable you to win a debate this way. Logical arguments work quite well in courtrooms, debate teams or computer programs. There are set rules; winners and losers can be determined by those rules.

The Yes Dear Strategy When debating with your partner doesn’t work, the next thing we try is to kill our partner with kindness. There is no way she can argue with me if I agree with everything she says. This is possible for awhile; some people even pull it off for years. It might keep the peace; but it is a false peace. Resentments build up over time and it hides our true Self. It is a passive way to control our partner.

The Shut Up Strategy When we can’t take being fake-nice anymore we try being a bully. We yell and scream and throw things. We boss people around (or try to) and use phrases we swore we never would like “Because I said so!!!” This is an aggressive method of control.

The Stone Wall Strategy When all else fails, we just stop saying or reacting to anything. This can be an extension of the Shut Up strategy. When we get upset, we just grit our teeth and bear it, and push it under the surface. This is also known as emotional cutoff and is the most dangerous of these strategies. If left unchecked it can be a most serious threat to the relationship. Total emotional silence kills relationships.

The Yes Dear and Shut Up strategies seem like they are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and they are on the Passive / Aggressive continuum.  With both methods, though, we are trying to control the other person. From this perspective, they are two sides of the same controlling coin. It takes an act of faith in yourself and your partner to give up the need to be in control, stand in your integrity, and share your true Self. Many of us feel we have two choices in an argument; give in or stand our ground. It can be liberating to know that there is a third choice: compassion.

We win every argument by recognizing we are in an old pattern of fear and anger, and stepping out of that pattern. In the past, the most important thing might have been to argue long and loudly until we “win.” How would things change if we recognize our most important goal is to lovingly connect? What will take us to this goal; blame and anger or love and compassion? Each disagreement is an opportunity to choose love over anger, leave blame behind and step into compassion. Here are some tools to do just that.

See the Pattern Arguing becomes especially destructive when it becomes a pattern. You will never step out of a pattern if you don’t see you are in one. Be present and check inside yourself. Is your heart rate and breathing increased? Is your speech loud and rapid? Do you have a closed body position? Do you feel angry or hurt? These are signs you have fallen into the argument pattern again and is the first skill you need to step out of this cycle.

Heart Centered Listening Instead of listening for logic flaws with your critical self, listen for the meaning of the words with your compassionate Self.

Keep on Topic In order to get more ammunition we will often dredge up a laundry list of every slight, insult, and mistake that has ever happened in the relationship. There’s time enough for those past hurts. Stay in the moment. What’s present for you right now?

Both Win We are equal partners in this relationship. We are on the same team. If one wins, we both win; and if one of us loses, we both lose. Work on a solution together.

Right and Wrong (hint: there is no right and wrong) When we fall into the pattern of argument, we lose sight of our larger goals and must be right at all costs. We can either be right, or we can be loving.

I’m Upset Because Every argument begins this way, but as long as the conversation stays on this subject, the argument never ends. Arguing is a mental sport and the smarter you are, the more likely you are to try to solve everything on the mental level. A loving resolution requires compassion, which comes from the heart, not the head. To be effective, we must move our energy from our head to our heart.

It’s Not about the Toothpaste It is almost always true that whatever the topic of your argument, it is not the real reason for the argument. You insist on leaving the cap off the toothpaste even though I’ve told you a thousand times it really bothers me. How could you upset me like this? Say it with me: it’s not about the toothpaste. The toothpaste is the trigger and we choose to go into a pattern of upset. The trigger points to a hurt place inside we feel needs protecting. Not every argument will be about trivial things like loud music or tubes of toothpaste. Sometimes we will argue about huge, life-changing things. The same tools apply so practice on the small things.

Exit the Argument and Reconnect When an argument is done, it is done. Successful couples learn how to exit an argument. It’s important for us both to have our say and to work on a creative solution together. When the argument is over, reconnect with a smile, a loving touch, or tender look that says I’m still with you.

What does this move into compassion look like? In the argument described on the first page, the obvious issue is whether the music is turned up or not. That seems trivial, but the music is only the tip of the iceberg of what’s going on. The larger issues are: Do you still see me? Do you still hear me? Am I smart enough to write a good article? Is the fun going out of our relationship? Do you still want to dance with me? Do you still love and want to have a life with me? These questions are not trivial; they are deep and complicated. In fact, it is much easier for me to pick a fight about music levels rather than face these deeper issues.

These issues take faith, courage, and compassion.

“We argue to get our needs met, and our needs will never get met by arguing.”

Billy Lee Myers, Jr.

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