Tag Archives: argument

Compassionate Confrontation:
“He said he’d spend more time with me, but has not followed through.”

"Taurus" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

When a person who has agreed to a behavioral change does not follow through, the ability to confront that person with compassion is essential. No matter how justified your anger, a hostile confrontation or withdrawal will only result in more frustration and distance.

The goal of a compassionate confrontation is to generate mutual understanding before taking action. Starting with this kind of dialogue is far more effective than letting your anger take over.

Arrange a Meeting

It is important to avoid simply jumping into a difficult conversation. You will be much more effective if you arrange a meeting with the following parameters in mind:

1. The meeting takes place in a safe place,

2. With adequate time for full discussion,

3. Without other people or the children around,

4. Not right before going to bed, and

5. Not when either of you is exhausted, has been drinking, or is hungry.

Ask the other person to agree to two conditions:

1. To give the discussion a certain amount of time so that neither of you will leave before the time is up, and

2. To avoid attacking each other and interrupting. If you are attacked or interrupted, don’t get angry. Just say, “Hey, let’s do this without attacking or interrupting each other, like we agreed.”

State of Mind

To effectively confront someone, you have to start the conversation when you’re emotionally able to manage your stress and reactivity. You have to resist blaming or judging. An effective discussion starts from a position of appreciation, that is, you have to find a way to value and understand the other person and to convey that you want what is best for both of you.

To know what action to take, you will need to have a full understanding of what’s going on. Keep your emotional focus on valuing the other person even if you don’t like what they are saying. It is crucial not to take things personally when they speak from a position of fear.

Communications Professor Dalton Kehoe suggests that in a situation where you’re hearing negative attacks to view yourself as a matador with a raging bull coming at you. Simply step aside rather than stand in its way.

Starting the Discussion

Ranting may temporarily relieve your stress but it has a damaging effect on dialogue. The whole point is to get a deeper understanding of the other person’s view of the situation. In fact, you will often be surprised by the the other person’s point of view.

To start the discussion, you can say, “I think this affects both of us.” Describe the situation briefly and factually, being as neutral as you can. For example, “Two months ago, I asked you to spend more time with me. You agreed to come home earlier, but haven’t.”

State your concern with only one sentence, so that the other person doesn’t shut down or become defensive. For instance, “I’d like to be in a relationship where we enjoy more time together.”

Active Listening

Then ask how the other person views the situation. “How do you see it?”

Be sure to actively listen to gain understanding. Don’t become defensive. Try to understand the other point of view, even if you don’t agree. Encourage a full explanation of their view without interjecting judgment or arguing back.

To neutralize the unhelpful tone of a confrontational discussion, take the negative content and re-frame it without the negative emotion. Reinterpret what’s being said into neutral language.

For instance, if he says, “I work like crazy, and get home to your nagging me to do more work,” you can re-frame it by saying, “I’m so sorry that you feel annoyed by the way I approach you when you come home.”

Your Point of View

Once you have gotten the full story and the other person has run out of emotional heat, then you can ask if they will listen to your perspective. Again keep it neutral and descriptive so as to gain their understanding. Keep it calm and brief.

Once May Not Be Enough

While this is the most effective method for dealing with conflict, it may take a few times before there’s enough trust built up for the attacks and defense to diminish. At that point, people may become more comfortable in being open and honest to themselves and each other.

Solution

Do not rush to solve a problem when you only understand part of the story. Once there is true understanding, problem-solving becomes a relatively easy and minor part of the discussion. Problem-solving can only occur when people really understand the problem from both points of view. The solution then becomes obvious, although it may still be painful. Life often demands that we adjust our dreams and hopes to reality. But first it is crucial to find out what the other person’s reality really is.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Recommended and Reference: “Effective Communication Skills” by Professor Dalton Kehoe from The Great Courses.


How to have a productive argument: “You’re simply wrong.”

"Poetry - Arnold Palmer" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Poetry – Arnold Palmer” by Mimi Stuart ©

To resolve conflict, solve problems, and influence people, you have to be diplomatic and strategic. Argue with the idea, not the person.

1. Find common ground. Start with the part you agree with.

“I understand where you’re coming from.” Or

“Yes, I have also found that…”

2. Find out the reasoning for their perspective.

“That’s an interesting way of looking at it. What makes you feel that way?” Or

“Tell me more about your position.”

3. Separate the idea from the person.

“The issue I have with that idea is that…”

4. Show concern rather than insistence by showing a compassionate side. Watch that your body language and facial expressions don’t convey superiority.

“My concern is…”

5. Broaden the other person’s perspective by posing a question. Even if someone doesn’t concede your point during the discussion, they may start considering it if you are not aggressive about it.

“Don’t you find…?” Or

“What if someone…?”

6. Don’t insist on resolving the issue now.

“Let’s think about this some more and see how we can fine-tune our ideas.”

Being strategic and diplomatic is not manipulative. It will allow you to hear what the other person has to say and you may learn something yourself. If you are soft on the person and curious about the issue at hand, you both might end up with a more nuanced solution than either one of you imagined.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

“How can you be so naïve! Don’t get mad at me when I’m just pointing out how he takes advantage of you!”

"Syncopation" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Syncopation” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

John Gottman’s research shows that the first three minutes of a discussion determines the tone and direction of the remainder of the discussion in 96% of cases. Criticisms, such as “You’re so naïve,” or “Why are you so selfish?” do the most harm at the beginning of a discussion. So be careful how you start a conversation.

Gottman found that happy couples express near zero contempt toward their partner even in times of conflict. They usually discuss their problems in a neutral way. Moreover, when they do experience conflict, they have fewer emotional exchanges during the conflict than unhappy couples.

Thus, it is critical to avoid expressing negative emotions during a conflict or an argument. This includes thinly-veiled contempt or an air of superiority.

The following behaviors are very predictive of a doomed relationship:

1. escalation of conflict

2. negative interpretation of comments

3. invalidation of the partner

4. withdrawal from the partner

How to approach your partner to talk about a problem

It’s best to startup the conversation in a positive way, particularly if you’re dealing with someone who tends to become defensive.

1. Be positive. “Honey, I love you and care about you very much. I’d like to talk to you about a concern I have. Is this a good time?”

2. Neutrally and briefly mention the facts, your feelings and your wishes without being critical, superior, or controlling. “In the past, I’ve seen your friend not follow through on his end of the deal. I appreciate that you want to see the best in people. Yet it makes me sad and frustrated to see you disappointed and aggravated when he disappoints you. I don’t want to tell you what to do. I am just reminding you that he has taken advantage of you in the past, and I hope that you can avoid letting a similar situation happen again.”

3. Stop and listen carefully to the other person’s response without jumping in to clarify or defend yourself.

4. When the person’s finished, try to be understanding. Repeat his concerns back to him so he knows you are listening. End the conversation with humor and/or appreciation. “Thanks for listening to my concern.”

5. If the time comes when your partner complains about being used, simply use humor or compassion, and say, “Yep, that’s too bad,” without being drawn into any drama.

6. If he continues to complain, say “I know. It’s disappointing. But let’s focus on something we can change. Hopefully you will not trust him in the future. ”

Finally, it’s important to avoid trying to control another person. You can give a warning to him and protect yourself as best you can. But remember that if you allow differences in personality to lead to an escalatiion in conflict, the resulting negativity is likely to become more damaging than the issue you are arguing about.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference: John Gottman’s “The Science of Trust.”

Read “I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

Watch “How to Respond to Rudeness: ‘I TOLD you to get it for me!!!’”

Read “Dealing with conflict and volatility: ‘You’re being irrational!’”

Negotiating and resolving conflict: “I’m buying a new car and that’s that. ”

"Formula Farley" by Mimi Stuart©

“Formula Farley” by Mimi Stuart©

Some people face conflict by becoming overbearing while others become overly accommodating. The key to problem-solving is to get away from focusing on positions and move to focusing on underlying interests and concerns.

Interests vs. Positions

Interests rarely conflict, whereas positions often do. To avoid taking positions and getting nowhere, you need to take the time to figure out what the other person’s interests are. It’s best to start out by gaining rapport and being willing to truly understand the other person’s perspective.

Here are five key steps in successful communication when facing opposing positions

1. Show respect. Build trust by being respectful and honest. When people feel disrespected or mistreated, they will act irrationally even if they hurt everyone else as well as themselves.

2. Listen. Give the other person a chance to be heard. Allow the other person to fully express concerns without your interrupting or being dismissive of those concerns. Often people become more flexible and accommodating when someone takes the time to understand his or her point of view. Moreover, when you understand another person’s perspective, you will be able have a more productive discussion.

3. Find out the other person’s underlying interest or concern. Avoid focusing on the position, for instance, “I’m buying a new car,” and find out what the underlying desires and concerns are, for instance, “I don’t want a car that might break down on the highway,” or “It would look better to my clients if I drove a nice car,” or “I’ve had a rough year, I need to do something nice for myself.”

4. Figure out what your own underlying concern is and explain it to the other person. Your position might be, “I don’t want you to buy a new car,” but your interest might be “I want us to minimize spending money because I want some financial security,” or “I want to make sure we have enough money to go on vacation,” or “I don’t want to buy a new car that loses value the moment you drive it off the lot.”

5. Creatively search for solutions together that satisfy both parties’ interests and be open to discussion. In the car-buying case, an effective discussion might involve considering concerns about long-term financial security, driving safety, and the pleasure of owning a nicer car.

Successful negotiations and dealing with conflict require patience and work. Yet the benefits of handling conflicts effectively are enormous. When you learn to collaborate with someone who has different interests than you and to handle impasses with wisdom and principles, you mitigate anger, resentment, and anxiety while enhancing your relationships and everyone’s contentment.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Conversation and Active Listening: ‘It seems like I do all the talking.’”

Read “When she gets angry, I feel overwhelmed and have to withdraw.”

Reference: Professor Seth Freeman’s “The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal.”

“It’s always your way or the highway!”

"Angle of Approach" — Furyk by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Angle of Approach” — Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

So… what I REALLY meant was…

“Let’s agree to include both our opinions into the solution. Let’s start by finding our common ground.”

Sarcasm furthers hostility.

Giving in causes resentment.

You can frequently find a healthy compromise if you remain calm, respectful, and persistent.

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

~John F. Kennedy

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “I end up arguing with him because he’s usually too busy working to talk.”

Read Positive Bonding Patterns:
“We never fight, but we don’t talk anymore and there’s no more passion.”

Watch “How to avoid becoming a doormat.”

“When she gets angry, I feel overwhelmed and have to withdraw.”

"Take Off" — Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Take Off” — Blue Angels by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

People react to conflict, anxiety and disapproval in different ways. Some people become bossy and directive, some get angry and attack others, and some become defensive. Others feel overwhelmed and either freeze or withdraw emotionally or physically.

People who withdraw may do so because they do not know how to respond or they get flooded with emotion. People who feel overwhelmed when they seem to be attacked are unable to think rationally and to express themselves in an articulate way. Often withdrawing is a response to the feeling of helplessness and fear – it is a defense mechanism developed to protect a person.

However, withdrawal often triggers feelings of abandonment and hostility in the other person. The more outspoken or argumentative person may view the withdrawal as a passive-aggressive punishment directed at him or her.

Explain your behavior

If someone is raging, repetitive, mean, or unreasonable, it may be best to withdraw. If you need to withdraw from conflict simply because you feel overwhelmed, it is best to say something to the other person before walking away. For example,

“I can’t discuss this clearly right now. I need to take a break.”

“Please let’s stop for a while.”

“Give me a moment. I’ll be back.”

“I’m feeling overwhelmed.”

At a moment when there is no conflict, it’s very helpful to explain to the other person how you are feeling when you withdraw. Let him or her know that you are not trying to be hurtful by walking away. Rather, you feel overwhelmed and unable to think or discuss anything rationally and clearly. “I need a moment to clear my head.”

Avoidance

Some people choose to step away from discussions to avoid a difficult issue. Sometimes it’s best to buy yourself time to think about an issue. Yet when you consistently avoid difficult discussions, the issues will often become more problematic, and people with whom you’re in relationship will become increasingly frustrated with you.

Self-awareness

When you become aware of your anxiety-management systems, you have the opportunity to gradually become stronger and more capable of handling difficult situations. If someone is angry, but not out of control, practice remaining calm without leaving immediately. See if you can withstand a little more discomfort without becoming overwhelmed. Have some responses readily available to state in a calm manner, such as,

“I’d like to hear what you’re saying. Can you explain that again in a more positive way.”

“I feel criticized. Could you rephrase that?”

“I feel defensive. Let’s start over again and remember I’m on your side.”

“I need a moment. Please be quiet for a moment and listen to me.”

“I think we could have a more productive conversation if we kept our voices down.”

With an awareness of what triggers you, you can gradually control the withdrawal process. Instead, you can thoughtfully choose whether to comply, withdraw, or assert yourself, among other possible responses. Sometimes it is best to withdraw, but it’s nice to feel as though you have a choice and can control your behavior in any situation. You will feel more powerful and others will sense it as well.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “The courage to say ‘No’: ‘I wish I hadn’t said ‘Yes,’ I just don’t have the time!’”

Read “To fight or not to fight: ‘After a fight, we barely talk to each other for days.’”