Clients often come to session to process arguments they have with roommates, romantic partners, colleagues, siblings, parents and friends. They report feeling distressed over how negatively the conversation went, and discuss with great remorse their personal reactivity. “I shouldn’t have said what I said,” “I shouldn’t have called her that word,” “That fight got really out of hand…” are things I often hear from clients. Here are some helpful strategies to employ the next time you find yourself in a heated argument or fight.
First, do not fear conflict. Remind yourself that there is a way to find common ground and that you can work together to identify a resolution. Not every argument has to evolve into something even worse that ruins a relationship. It can be healthy and significant to argue, as it can reveal truths, promote honesty, and even ultimately bring people closer together.
Try to approach the argument with a level head. It is easy to let yourself escalate, to become reactive and to go right to ten. But this approach rarely helps anyone come to any peaceful resolution. Remain as centered as possible and focus on the goal. Do not allow yourself to raise your voice. Do not curse. Do not assassinate anyone’s character. Do not allow your emotions to inform how you choose your words, actions or delivery; you’ll only regret it afterwards.
Refrain from interrupting — instead of focusing on your comeback or retort, channel your energy into listening. Try to see their perspective. Do not listen to respond, listen to understand.
Keep history out of the argument. Only discuss the current issue, situation or problem. You should not approach an argument with an arsenal. If you find yourself keeping tabs or compiling things to add to the pile, ask yourself why you are doing that. Is it more important to “win,” or to make peace with someone and move forward?
Express yourself with your feelings. Try using “I feel” statements, rather than blaming the other person or getting defensive right away. Focus on your perspective and try to get them to understand your side of things. Don’t speak in absolutes, like “you never ___,” or “I always ___.” And of course, never resort to getting physical. You should not be aiming to frighten the person, you should be aiming to be heard and understood.
Lastly, learn to forgive and don’t hold a grudge. If you do not accept an authentic apology, you are focusing on punishing the person rather than resolving the issue. Ask yourself why that is more important to you, and how you would feel if someone didn’t accept your heartfelt apology. Prioritize your relationship over being right, and once you’ve had the argument, let it go!
No one enjoys arguing, and it is certainly easy to forget these tips in the middle of a heated conversation. However, if we can be mindful in those moments, we can have more peaceful and connected relationships.