Tag Archives: arguments

Communicating Effectively under Stress:
“This is horrible!”

"Enlightenment" Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Enlightenment” Dalai Lama by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Fear and anger are signals to pay attention to your physical surroundings, your current situation or your relationships. Appropriate fear and anger often mean that you may be in danger or are being treated unfairly.

When you recognize the emotional signal, take a deep breath, and switch over to your intuition and rational mind to determine what to do next. Becoming overwhelmed with emotion is usually counterproductive when you need to take action or communicate with others.

Get calm

It’s highly important to calm down and get centered before you speak. Otherwise your anxiety, hostility or panic will be infectious. There are subtle forms of tone of voice and sarcasm that will put the other person on the defensive and hinder your ability to resolve the situation effectively.

You may need to take a walk or talk with someone. It may take a few minutes or it may take hours to feel balanced and calm enough to be able to have an effective conversation. In certain serious situations, such as potential divorce, it may take days or weeks to get a handle over your feelings and gain adequate perspective to have an effective conversation.

If you need time to feel in control before speaking to someone, but if that person wants to speak with you right then, it’s critical that you say that you need to calm down first and to do so. If you simply walk away to calm down, the other person may feel rejected, abandoned, or ignored and become angry, which is not helpful.

It’s better to give a time frame:
“I need some time to calm down. Let’s talk in five minutes/after dinner/tomorrow.”

If the other person says, “What do you mean? Let’s talk about it now,” just firmly say, “That’s not going to be productive. I need a minute/some time alone.” Stand firm and don’t be swayed.

Tone of voice

Tone of voice and body language are more important than words. Some research says that they account for 80% of what is communicated. They can convey positive intention, self-control, respect, and self-respect, which will make it easier for others to really listen to you. Or they can convey weakness, loss of control, and desperation, which can freak people out or put them on the defensive. Even if you are extremely angry, it is more powerful and effective to show self-control than to let your anger loose.

No judgment

Avoid negative judgment, name-calling, and expressing yourself in a way that makes the other person feel attacked. By keeping yourself from exaggerating or listing all the bad things the other person has ever done, you make it more likely that the other person will listen rather than take things personally and defend him- or herself.

You’ll have a more productive conversation if you say,  “I waited for 20 minutes,” than if you exclaim: “You drive me crazy the way you are always late. It’s so rude!”


Some people tend to control others rather than simply state their own feelings because they don’t want to seem weak or self-oriented. Yet a direct declaration of one’s feelings is powerful, not weak. Rather than attacking the other person, state your own feelings: “I was worried.” “I felt angry.” “I’m disappointed.” “I was sad.” “I felt frustrated.” When you state a feeling, no one can reasonably argue with it.

Feelings are not judgments such as, “I feel that you are selfish.” That’s a negative judgment pretending to be a feeling.

It’s important not to become immersed in the feeling or identified with the feeling. If you’re sad, you can show a little sadness, but don’t fall apart. If you’re angry, don’t become ballistic. People who are able to express their emotions without being overwhelmed by them, garner more respect and empathy from others. They are also more capable of dealing effectively with the problems the feelings are signaling.

Desires and needs

Express what you desire, value, or need. “I would like more intimacy.” “I want a trusting relationship.” “I need support.” “I would like to have more time alone each day.” “I want to pursue my passions.”

Some people don’t like to express their needs because they don’t want to appear needy. Yet a direct declaration what you value and want is less manipulative than using blame or guilt trips. Such openness also supports the other person’s autonomy, allowing the other person to choose his or her actions freely.

Needs and desires are general, not tied to a particular person. For example, “I need you to love me more” should be replaced with “I want to be in a relationship with someone who loves me.”

No one can argue against your desires or needs even if they might not fulfill them.

Make a specific positive request

  • Specific: General requests such as “Support me” or “Clean your room” are not nearly as effective as a specific request such as “Would you help me pay the bills tonight?” or “Would you be willing to put your clothes lying on the floor there, inside your closet?”
  • Positive: Beware of saying something like “If you’d just get up off the couch and help around the house once in a while.” This reeks of hostile criticism.
  • Request: A request is not a threat or a demand. By making a request, you offer the other person the opportunity to do something nice for you. Rather than a scolding session, where everyone feels lousy, it can be a win-win situation, in which someone will likely help you and you will feel appreciative.

Transform the relationship

If you make repeated reasonable requests and another person repeatedly refuses to accommodate you, that is the other person’s prerogative. However, you should probably change your expectations of the other person and in some cases consider changing the scope of the relationship.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Anger: ‘I have a right to be angry.’”

Watch “Expressing Anger Effectively.”

Read “Random Thoughts from So What I Really Meant.”

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

"Canon in D" by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

A musical canon consists of “two or more parts that have the same melody but start at different points.” Like the variety we find in music, we also find great variety in types of relationships that work and don’t work. There are both healthy and unhealthy relationships among couples who argue and among couples who don’t.

No Fighting

Unhealthy: Some couples who never fight will simply hide their differing opinions and emotions, creating a situation that leads to distance and frosty disengagement. The partners, feeling alienated, sadly drift apart.

Healthy: Some couples who don’t typically fight have learned how to actively listen and to express their opinions and disagreements without expressing contempt for the other person. This seems ideal, but is difficult to live up to when emotions run high.


Unhealthy: Some people who argue and fight do not listen to each other. They attack and defend. As a result, mutual negativity and contempt for each other grow until the relationship is nothing more than a bitter struggle.

Healthy: Some couples who have disagreements and lose their temper care deeply for each other and desire to put right any harm done.

Attempts to Repair

What’s more important than avoiding conflict is the earnest attempt to repair hurt feelings after a disagreement—and the sooner the better. Loving couples have empathy for each other, and will therefore, hasten to apologize for harsh words or losing their temper.

Having fights is not necessarily harmful to a relationship as long as there is not abuse or a pattern of criticism and contempt. Getting past the hurt feelings caused by arguments occurs best when each person’s overriding concern is for the well-being of the other and the relationship, which rests on the well-being of both partners.

More important than whether a couple fights is how often and quickly they try to repair their relationship after disagreements. Phyllis Diller might have been right when she said, “Never go to bed mad. Stay up and fight.” Some fighting, unless it’s constant or cruel, can be fine as long as couples strive to make peace soon afterwards.

Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress.

~Mahatma Gandhi

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

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

Read “Avoidance Behavior: ‘I’ve been dreading telling her about our financial problems.’”

Read “That’s wrong. I totally disagree.”

“We always argue.”

"Dynamic" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

If you find yourself arguing with a particular person a lot, reflect upon your underlying motivations. They may be causing your discussions to turn into arguments.


1. Whether you have to be right,

2. Whether you have to prove your point,

3. Whether you are trying to get the other person to validate you,

4. Whether you are trying to change the other person, or

5. Whether you expect a silent, compliant audience.

All these motivations negate connection and stop effective communication between people. Coercive argument from a stance of superiority only results in hostility.

Relationships improve when people can discuss their opinions passionately AND compassionately. To communicate effectively and avoid bitter arguments, make sure you 1) find out what the other person believes and desires, and 2) express yourself in a way that the other person will be more likely to be open to hearing what you believe and desire.

When you are motivated to enhance your relationship, communications become pleasant and more effective. You can try the following:

1. Listen more and really try to understand what the other person thinks and feels. Put yourself in his or her shoes.

2. Let the other person finish his or her thoughts before interrupting with another point of view.

3. Express yourself so that you don’t trigger the other person. Focus particularly on your body language and tone of voice.

4. Be ready to simply accept your differences.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Improving Relationships.”

Read “Dealing with Angry People.”

“That’s just the way I am!” Arguments: The Red Herring

"Drop Cloth" by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

A “Red Herring” is a verbal ploy to distract a person’s attention away from a real issue. It’s a tactic used to hide a weakness from the listener by changing the subject. The phrase “Red Herring” comes from using the strong scent of herring fish to trick dogs into following the wrong trail.

A: “I’d like you to stop being so critical of me; It’s really unpleasant.”
B: “It could be a lot worse. At least I don’t come home drunk and scream at you.”

One type of Red Herring is the ad hominem—an attack on the speaker rather than a relevant explanation. This feeds the cycle of offense and hurt. An ad hominem is not productive, although there are some classics that are very witty.

Lady Astor to Churchill: “Sir, you’re drunk!”
Winston Churchill: “Yes, Madam. But in the morning, I will be sober and you will still be ugly.”

The best response to a red herring is to continue to focus on the real issue, by repeating the question without anger. People who use red herrings a lot generally dread strong reactions, anger, and criticism. They’d rather deflect any uncomfortable questions. So it’s important to be persistent but without being threatening.

Response to Red Herring:
A: “Why are you late?”
B: “That’s just the way I am!”
A: “That may be the way you are, but I’d still like to know why you’re late this time.”

Response to Red Herring:
A: “I’d like you to stop being so critical of me; It’s really unpleasant.”
B: “It could be a lot worse. At least I don’t come home drunk and scream at you.”
A: “I really feel bad when you’re so critical. Would you be willing to stop criticizing me?”

As for Lady Astor and Churchill, thankfully they didn’t resolve their differences. Or we’d miss some great quips.

Lady Astor: “If you were my husband, I’d poison you.”
Churchill: “If you were my wife, I’d take it.”

by Alison Poulsen, PhD