Unless you have Dalai Lama levels of patience and tolerance or hate confrontation, you probably engage in arguments on a fairly regular basis.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing; A 2010 study out of the University of Michigan found that a little arguing here and there can be good for your health, and that avoiding conflict brings on more stress the next day than engaging in an argument.
Still, there’s a right and wrong way to air your grievances and make your point. Below, therapists and communications experts reveal how persuasive people navigate conflict.
1. They recognize that the point of an argument is to gain a better understanding of the other side.
“The goal of an argument is to walk away with a renewed sense of understanding of each others’ needs and working on solutions that benefit both people. People who argue successfully focus on how to solve the problem and tackle the issue, not beat the other person. Arguments should never be a character assassination, or bring someone’s integrity into question.” ― Marissa Nelson, a marriage therapist in Washington, D.C.
2. They ask questions to understand the other perspective better.
“A persuasive arguer recognizes that the other person has their own needs and their own goals to accomplish. We all enter discussions from our own perspective and with our own assumptions. Asking questions about the other side gives us a better understanding of them.
You can soften the tenor of the dialogue if you treat the other person not as the enemy, but as someone who needs to achieve her goals in the discussion. If you understand those goals and can meet those goals, the ‘argument’ becomes a problem-solving discussion. Now you’re the other person’s ally, not the enemy.” ― Jay Sullivan, a managing partner at Exec-Comm, a business communication skills consulting firm and author of Simply Said: Communicating Better at Work and Beyond
3. They use very direct, unambiguous language to get their point across.
“Successful arguers tell the whole truth and use very direct language. Here’s an example: One couple I’m working with in therapy is dealing with the wife being in recovery from an addiction. Her husband is trying to heal and regain trust of her after her many lies and deceptions. He wants to trust her again, but it’s hard, especially because she travels a lot. He wishes he didn’t feel suspicious, so he says things like, ‘I don’t not trust you, it’s just that…’
If he were telling the whole truth, he would admit that he doesn’t fully trust her. A more honest statement would be, ’I hate the fact that I still don’t completely trust you but I just need some reassurance or communication from you while you’re away.′ Until each person can admit where they truly are, they will never get their needs met or resolve the fight.” ― Susan Pease Gadoua, a couples therapist and the co-author of The New I Do, Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels
4. They avoid saying “but” or “however” after the other person has shared their perspective.
“When you use ‘but’ and ‘however,’ you’re communicating to the other person that you don’t really care about their position. When I’m leaving the house in the morning and my wife says, ‘Honey, that’s a really nice tie, but…,’ the conversation is over at that point. Clearly, I’m changing my tie. I don’t know if it doesn’t match my shirt, or my suit, or the season. It doesn’t matter. All I know is that the tie has to go.
To be more successful in your arguments, swap out ‘but’ or ‘however’ with ‘and.’ Why? ‘And’ sounds positive. It creates the sense of new opportunities. It doesn’t diminish what comes before. ‘And’ adds to the conversation rather than detract. If you and I have polar opposite views, I can still sound open and conciliatory if I use ‘and’ instead of ‘but.’” ― Sullivan
5. They monitor their tone of voice and body language.
“A successful arguer pays attention to their tone of voice. They understand it’s not just about what you say but how you say it. They breathe and speak slowly and with intention. They monitor their body language, too. They get that they’re in a heightened emotional state and everyone needs their personal space and to be respected.” ― Nelson
6. They try to listen, not persuade.
“Listen to any mainstream news programs, regardless of which side of any debate they support. Most questions begin with, ‘Don’t you think that…’ Questions framed that way don’t bring on a better understanding; they’re meant to trap the other side and push them into a narrow position that can be used against them. That’s helpful if you are angling for a fight. It’s not helpful if you are looking to understand the other person.
People who are successful at conflicts ask questions that begin with ‘why,’ ‘what’ and ‘how.’ Questions that begin with those words force the other person to talk, and require you to listen, so that you learn the other person’s perspective. Understanding the other person is the key to turning ‘arguments’ into ‘discussions.’ In a discussion, the goal is to resolve a conflict. In an argument, the goal is to win, and too often, that results in two losers.” ― Sullivan
7. If they say something out of line, they’re quick to offer a genuine apology.
“In my experience, things often fall apart during an argument because people get triggered by not fighting fair, lack of accountability and empathy and the other side offering a poor or non-apology. People who have successful arguments know that ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ could be interpreted as dismissive. Instead of issuing non-apologies, their statements are heartfelt and meaningful. They say things like: ‘I understand where you’re coming from, even though it’s a different view than my own.’ Ultimately, they hold themselves accountable if they say something negative or react poorly.” ― Nelson