How To Avoid Arguments In Relationships

Arguments are the second-worst human invention (behind pogs, obviously). Unproductive at best, damaging at worst – they remain a popular activity for the whole family to enjoy suffer through.

I was talking to my cousin one night about arguments, pride, vulnerability, and similar topics.  During our conversation I realized something about human interactions – we rarely have the information we need and this creates many feuds!

I’m going to give an example of a petty argument because when an argument lacks substance, we know it exists for purely psychological and emotional reasons that can be identified. “Heavy” arguments on politics and religion are too convoluted with the “who is right?” question to examine psychologically.

Fluff - A Frisky Cat

This is Fluff the cat. He argues, "I do NOT have fleas. You don't understand me. You NEVER will!" Fluff gets frisky too easily but we still love him.

Josh and Alexandra Have An Argument

Josh: “The Detroit Lions are going to the Super Bowl.”

Alexandra: “I don’t care about football.”

Josh: “You don’t have to be so snappy about it.”

Alexandra: “I wasn’t. What’s wrong with you?”

Josh: “What’s wrong with me?? I was just wanting to talk to you and you were being rude.”

As you can see from that ridiculous example, there was a clear disconnect between the two friends.  The conversation seems simple on the exterior, but much complexity hides in the shadows. This is a great example of how oversimplifying conversations can result in absurd, trivial arguments.

Earlier this year, I had a heated argument with my housemate about whether or not shepherd’s pie typically contains peas or not! I’m not kidding! Just like all arguments, it was a string of misunderstandings. For where there is mutual understanding, there is no argument.

What Went Wrong?

Now I’ll explain what went wrong with Josh and Alexandra.  You’ll see that the conversation starts off with key information that the other person is unaware of. As a result of not knowing this information, the words are twisted and assumptions are made – hence the argument.

The critical missing information is green

The results of not knowing the information are red

Josh: “The Detroit Lions are going to the Super Bowl.”

Missing Info: Josh wanted to connect with Alexandra. He has an indirect style of communication so he started off with small talk. Football was just the first thing that popped into his head because he knows she is from Detroit.

Alexandra: “I don’t care about football.”

Missing Info: Alexandra was fine with talking, but she does not like football. She thought she was making it clear she’d rather talk about something else. She has a direct style of communication.

Josh: “You don’t have to be so snappy about it.”

Result: Josh took what she said as a sign that she was not interested in talking to him. Being offended and hurt by this perceived disinterest, Josh unjustly accused Alexandra of not considering his feelings (in his indirect style).

Alexandra: “I wasn’t. What’s wrong with you?”

Result: She was offended by the accusation.

Josh: “What’s wrong with me?? I was just wanting to talk to you and you were rude.”

Result: Josh, already feeling like the victim, couldn’t believe Alexandra had the nerve to talk to him like she did. I hope they can work this out, but you can see they will have to do a lot of backtracking to find the root of this argument.

Learn From Their Fictional Mistakes

Be very scared aware of your emotions. When a negative emotion flares up in conversation, do not brush it aside. Some people might find this weird, but saying the emotion you’re experiencing out loud can be very effective in conversation. But start stuffing emotions in the closet and they’ll jump out unexpectedly and destroy the world.

Once you’re aware of your emotions, you can learn to trace them back to a source. Josh felt rejected, angry, and hurt by Alexandra’s comment. If he had paused before reacting without thinking (easier said than done!), he could have directed the conversation towards finding the missing information.

He could have asked, “Oh, do you want to talk about something else?” Alexandra would have said “Sure, did you hear about Kelly Clarkson?” to which Josh would respond, “I don’t care about Kelly Clarkson.”  Eventually, they’d find common ground. 😛

The key to all of this? Assume you’re missing information – because you are!

We are always missing information when talking to others. In many cases, it results in argument. Seek to find the missing information before you find yourself deep in argument and searching for some semblance of how it started.

5 steps to avoid argument:

  1. Negative emotion flares up in conversation.
  2. Recognize it and trace it to a comment or gesture.
  3. Assume you’re missing information and ask a relevant question.
  4. The situation is clarified and no argument occurs (unless the clarification was that the person thinks you’re an idiot, in which case, let ’em have it!)
  5. Proceed with discussion of football and/or Kelly Clarkson.
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