There’s a difference between being neutral and being fair; and sometimes the only way to be fair, to both others and yourself, is to take a stand. For example, if one of your senior employees is taking unfair advantage of a junior, as a responsible boss you can’t remain neutral. To be fair you have to take the junior’s side, very likely getting into an argument with the more senior employee.
So unless you’re a hermit, a wimp, or have no principles whatsoever, there will be times when you can’t avoid an argument but you can always control it. To be in control an argument you have to be prepared, and you have to remain in control of yourself.
When body language, facial expression, or tone of voice signal the beginning of an argument, the most effective word in your vocabulary will be “why”. Starting a sentence with “why” forces you to ask a question, such as: Why do you say that? Why do you feel that way? Why are you angry? Asking questions in a conciliatory tone of voice will often defuse an otherwise explosive situation. It’s also a marvellous way to learn something.
There are some common characteristics of arguments. By definition there are at least two sides to every argument; and arguments for and against vary in importance with each person’s point of view. When people say they agree “in principle” the argument is already underway. And, “Yes, but…” is itself an argument. Also, in arguments, people aren’t usually against you as much as they are for themselves.
Although the best way to win an argument is to be right, how you demonstrate that you’re right is critical. You will need relevant, convincing illustrations and examples to back up your points. The best way to prove that a stick is crooked is to place a straight stick beside it; unfortunately, it isn’t always that easy to prove a point. Effective arguments need clear, logical, effective explanations. Everybody doesn’t always want the same thing, so everybody isn’t always swayed by the same logic, which is why preparation is so important.
If you win all your arguments you’re going to lose all your friends. Be prepared to overlook what’s not important. Disagreement over an issue is less likely to cause an argument if the issue is kept separate from the personalities. What’s being said has to be kept separate from who’s saying it. An effective way to do this is to deal with the other person as you would your best friend; which usually means listening carefully, asking questions, and avoiding being prematurely judgmental. When you sincerely try to understand other people’s points of view, you’ll be surprised at how often they’re trying to do what they sincerely believe is right.
Don’t confuse courage of conviction with stubbornness or prejudice. There are signals which will tip you off when you’re acting from stubbornness or prejudice rather than conviction. The first is when you start to feel anger rising. The next is when you raise your voice. When either happens you have to get yourself back under control, or find some way to postpone the debate until you do. Hard arguments require soft words.
There are times when arguing is futile. The most obvious is when you are clearly wrong. Everyone has the right to an opinion, but no one has the right to be wrong, even though ignorance produces some very interesting arguments. Avoid arguing with people who are angry. Trying to change people’s viewpoints when they’re all fussed about something will usually result in their hardening their positions.
An argument has two sides, but it also needs an end. Although it takes two people to start an argument, it only takes one to end it. A good indication that it’s time to end an argument is when it becomes long and drawn out. A long, drawn out argument is usually a signal that neither side is clearly right. When you realize you’re wrong, be willing to concede. If the need to get in the last sentence becomes overwhelming, use it to apologize. When the other person admits that you are right, be easy to live with.
To prevent the recurrence of an argument, find and correct whatever caused it in the first place. And when disagreeing with a loved one, remember this final piece of advice. Deal only with the current situation; don’t bring up the past.