Wednesday 17 June 2015

Arguments - 10 Rules of Engagment

Arguing is an unavoidable part of the process of forging an intimate relationship. 

A good argument is some combination of two things:
  1) negotiating for things you want,
  2) attempting to better understand an event or behaviour.

To minimize the bloodshed, it's a good idea if you can agree on some rules of engagement. Here are my suggestions...

1) Properly adjust your attitude, going in: Be motivated to discover the truth. Many people enter an argument motivated only by a need to be proven right; to win a word-battle. A large number of people are resigned to this dangerous notion which paves only a path toward resentment and contributes to a further breakdown of communication. It's a self-esteem issue and often leads to saying hurtful things or bringing up irrelevant details to derail the opponent's train of thought. Be brave enough to uncover the truth, even if it means you were wrong.


2) Discuss, rather than argue. A fight, by definition, involves emotion, but if you can keep your tone of voice respectful and your arguments logical, then hurt feelings generated by the discussion will not obscure the issue. If you wouldn't use such language or tones of voice with a coworker, you should resist using it with your partner.

3) Take turns: Do not talk until your partner has finished speaking. If you are constantly interrupting, then you are not listening. If you think that you know exactly what your partner is going to say, then you are listening to a voice inside your head, not your partner.
   If you find that you are doing most of the talking, then you should consider the possibility that you are engaged in a monologue, rather than a dialogue. You can learn nothing new from a monologue. Your partner needs to contribute. Be sure to grant them ample time to compose thoughtful responses.

4) Neither of you are mind readers. Resist jumping to conclusions about your partner's thought processes. Since you are not a mind reader, you can have no idea what your partner truly thinks, except through what they tell you. Accept what they say about their thoughts as fact. Also, remember that the reverse is true... they can not read your mind, so it's not fair to use the words "you should have known," unless you explicitly told them.

5) Timing: Discuss an incident as soon as possible after it occurs. The longer you wait, the more likely your memories will diverge. In the end it will be a tie between your fading memories and theirs. My general rule is that the issue is dead if it hasn't been addressed within 7 days.

6) Silence: Relationship Kryptonite.  Complete and eternal silence is utterly destructive and should not be allowed.

However, no one should be forced to supply immediate answers. Requiring snappy comebacks gives an unfair advantage to the quickest thinker. To arrive at the truth, a discussion must be fair.
     There are those who seek emotional space by not speaking and while it's true that they are impeding intimacy, some allowance must be made for our human natures: Some are bold while others are skittish. In the same way that you wouldn't charge a shy kitten, neither should you relentlessly attack an emotionally timid partner. The fact that they have no quick answers does not mean that they are wrong.
    Give your partner a break to regroup, to sort things out and to establish some comfort zone.
   This is especially true in heated and emotional disagreements where hasty words may be regretted for a lifetime. If one of you wants time to think, accommodate this need without resentment.
    Take a break, but make an appointment to return to the subject as soon as possible. Twenty-four hours would be a reasonable maximum, for most common squabbles. Each day that goes by, memories fade, making the discussion that much more difficult.

7) Stick to the subject. Wandering off topic is the typical strategy of someone who wants to obscure an issue. If a tangential subject comes up, write that down. Come back to it another day. No matter how harshly it has been introduced, resist the temptation to rebut. It's a trap. If you are in a discussion with someone whose only motivation is to win, they will try to lure you on to side topics with what appear to be easily refuted accusations. Once you go there, they feel safer and will often use semantics to invalidate your answer.

8) Don't Play the Semantics Game. Another common obfuscating tactic is the use of semantics: Your opponent focuses on insufficiencies in language to bury the logic of your argument. You know you're being pulled in this direction when you find yourself endlessly defining terms, in order to clarify your simplest statements.

                    YOU: "You can't do that. It would hurt her feelings."
                     PARTNER: "So now you're telling me what I can and can't do?!"

    Spoken language is inherently imprecise. Focus on the intended meaning of your partner's words, not the sentence structure.

9) Apologize. A sincere apology is never a bad thing. Beyond helping your partner let go of their anger and resentment which helps them to forgive, it also helps you learn. Humans learn little from success. Our most important lessons come from failure and accepting responsibility. Even if you win an argument and get an apology, it is always a wise idea to look for any blame which might be yours. If you find some, you will learn something.

    What constitutes a sincere apology...
          * An apology is best done with words. Written words are the most powerful.
          * If your apology is sincere, you'll probably feel uncomfortable and reluctant.
          * Sending gifts is ok, but needs to be backed up with action and/or words.
          * A proper apology does not contain mitigating words like "but" or "however."
          * If you do not make yourself apologize properly, you are getting off too easily.
          * The lower the quality of the apology, the less the value and, therefore, the less the effect.

10) Accept apologies gracefully. Sincerely apologizing hurts our pride and is a difficult thing to do. In fact, if we didn't value you and the relationship, we would never do it. You should view any apology as an indication of how much your partner cares. Don't gloat and above all, resist any temptation to add some parting shots to the discussion. Such behaviour only makes apologizing more difficult and therefore, less likely.
     If you accept the apology, you must forgive the transgression. Forgiving means accepting that your partner is sorry for what they have done. It also means accepting that they are making an honest effort to avoid repeating the behaviour.

Ok, then. Let the games begin!


I reject your arguments...
Just buy my time travel, action/adventure novel!

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