How to End an Argument in 3 Simple Steps
Sometimes we start with a simple conversation or exchange of ideas and suddenly find ourselves entrenched in an endless argument that seems to go nowhere and just continues to escalate. Often the strategies we use to end an argument only get us further entangled in it. These arguments can end up hurting our relationships and derailing us emotionally for the rest of the day. Here are 3 simple steps to end any argument quickly.
Own what part is yours. It takes 2 to tango. In order for an argument to occur both parties need to contribute to it. Own up for what you have contributed. You can have a relationship or you can be right, but you have to choose which is most important to you. We have to have to humility and honesty to recognize that no one handles an interaction perfectly, i.e. maybe we had an accusatory tone or an accusatory rebuttal, or we came back with our point so quickly that it shut the other person down, or we were quick to defend our self rather than to listen. Taking ownership is realizing that our actions and our words have an impact on another. It doesn’t mean we intended to hurt or upset the person, but rather, it is recognizing, that no matter our intent, we hurt them and we impacted them. It is also empowering to take ownership because it helps you realize you are in control of your words and behaviors. You are in control of the role you play. And we can change the things we are in control of. So instead of trying to blame, control, or change the other person, take responsibility for your behavior, your words and the way you contributed to the cycle, dynamic and argument.
Apologize for your part. Once you have taken ownership and acknowledged your negative affect on the other person, apologize for it. Apologizing isn’t about taking the blame or admitting to guilt. It’s more about understanding and acknowledging to the other person that our words and actions had an affect on them. Apologizing is showing remorse for the way something you said or did hurt or upset someone. However, it is often hard to apologize because they it is vulnerable. We don’t like to apologize because we don’t want to seem like we are wrong or at fault. We can also feel like we are opening ourselves up to an attack. And sometimes the other person does not respond the way we had hope, but you will still find the argument will de-escalate because its much harder to be angry and outraged when the other person is being humble and apologizing. When you apologize it is important to not say, “I’m sorry you feel ‘x,’” because that just ends up communicating, “I’m sorry you have a problem,” rather than taking ownership for ourselves. Try saying, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings when I said or did ‘x.’” Also, being specific is important because it communicates you understand what they are feeling and communicates the sincerity of your apology. Likewise, it is important that when you apologize you don’t do the “I’m sorry, but…” set up. That’s where you apologize, but then immediately give an excuse for why you said or acted the way you did. That just completely undoes the apology and continues the argument.
Empathy means to feel with someone; actually it means to “feel into.” Put yourself in other person shoes and try to imagine what they might be feeling. Then try to articulate back to them their point, what they are trying to say, and what they might be feeling. It doesn’t mean you agree or see things their way, it just means you can imagine and understand. In order to empathize, it is important to fist listen and make sure you really understand their perspective, i.e. what they are hurt or upset about, and what is important to them. Sometimes you will need to ask for clarification by saying, “Could you tell me more?” or “Can you help me understand this part?” Then it is important to connect with the way they might be feeling and reflect that back that by saying something like, “I can imagine how you might feel that way," or “I see what you are saying,” or “You feel this way or think this because of ‘x.’” At the root of most arguments are two people trying desperately to be heard and understood by the other. We want to be heard and understood so badly it makes it difficult to actually listen and understand the other person. We get so caught up in forming our argument or coming up with our rebuttal that we don’t pause to actually hear and process what the other person is saying. If you pause, really listen to what the person is saying, put yourself in their shoes, and reflect back to them that you understand, can see their point, or just acknowledge that maybe you haven’t looked at it that way before, it goes a long way. Empathy is such a powerful tool of connection and de-escalation. And again, empathy isn’t about agreeing with someone, but rather it’s about caring and respecting another enough to try to understand their view or feeling.
So the next time you can feel things escalating into an argument, try these steps and you will be surprised how quickly the conversation can turn for the better.