If it feels like you’re just getting angry and going in circles, here are some tips on how to stop disagreements before they start and defuse them if they’ve begun.
To avoid an argument…
Don’t be controlled by fear. Understand your insecurities. Maybe a colleague’s well-meaning feedback has triggered feelings of inadequacy. Realize that those feelings are based on your negative mind-talk, not on the truth.
Know where they’re coming from. It’s important to understand the other person’s fears. If you know they’re afraid of failure, don’t start the conversation by telling them they did something wrong. Choose language that won’t make them get defensive.
Start on the right foot. If you need to discuss something difficult, schedule a time when you both will be able to give the conversation your full attention. Begin by acknowledging the respect you have for the other person and your desire for a resolution that works for both of you.
It’s not you—it’s them. Maybe your friend has said something that upsets you. Before you react with anger, pause and consider what they’re experiencing today. Is work stressing them out? Did they sleep poorly last night? Their behavior probably has little to do with you.
To defuse an argument…
Understand how they react. If the other person shuts down when they get angry, give them some time alone. Resume the conversation later. If they become more talkative when they’re upset, let them get their concerns off their chest.
Equal and opposite reactions. If you try to convince the other person that you’re right and they’re wrong, they’ll likely become angrier. Instead, acknowledge your role in the disagreement but also share your concerns.
Listen to your body. If you feel your heart rate rising and your muscles clenching, chances are the argument has escalated beyond the point of being constructive. Breathe deeply and agree to disagree for now.
It’s up to you. Maybe your partner or co-worker did something that hurt or offended you. Their actions are out of your hands—but how you react is your decision. You can choose to take a step back, and return to the conversation at another time.
We’ve all said them at one time or another. Here’s what to say instead.
Avoid: “You always do this.”
It places all the blame on the other person and it uses the absolute, “always.” Instead, say, “I sometimes feel that we misunderstand each other because…”
Avoid: “You’re not listening to me.”
This could actually be true—or you might not be presenting your point in a way that the other person understands. Try asking, “Am I making sense?”
Avoid: “We’ve gone over this a thousand times.”
Yes, you might have argued about the same issue more times than you can count. But that doesn’t mean you’ve discussed it in a constructive way. Ask, “Why do you feel we haven’t resolved this yet?”