Are you the type of person who can argue and disagree with others? Or, do you let people walk all over you? There are many who avoid confrontation at all costs, while others are more than willing to jump in and argue away. Some are even uncomfortable disagreeing with their spouse, while others may have a problem challenging any type of authority.
While I tend to not enjoy disagreements, I can disagree with my wife or others if the need arises and I have to get my point across. I am writing today to let all of those people who are deathly afraid of confrontation know that it is OK, and downright American, to disagree with others. The art, though, is in how you disagree.
So to help all of you who, like me, shy away from confrontation, here’s
- Listen closely to what is being said – You must first and foremost listen and hear what the other person is saying. You may not agree with what is being said, but to make a response you must try and remain calm and listen to the whole argument before responding.
- Stay away from name-calling – Make the disagreement about the issue not about the person. Calling people names will only anger the other person and close down pathways to communication.
- Discern the tone of voice that the person is using – Depending on how the person is talking with you, you need to respond in kind. There are many times where the other person is not trying to pick a fight, but instead he is simply trying to make a point of view understood.
- Address a specific point the other person has raised instead of the entire position – Be specific to the points you are concerned with after hearing their argument. Not only does this keep you focused, but also it allows the person to remain open to your perspectives without completely shutting down and putting up their defenses without hearing your side of the disagreement.
- Don’t deny the person, deny the perspective they are taking – Focus on the issues being discussed and do not make this about the person. Once you start focusing and attacking the person, the disagreement becomes personal and the barriers that I mentioned earlier will be raised and nothing productive will come out of the conversation.
- Remain calm – Above all, you must remain calm when you disagree. You need to make sure you have a level head so that you can speak in a way that others will want to listen. Once you become angry, you will likely start to attack the other person and turn the disagreement into a argument.
- Speak for yourself – When disagreeing always make sure you are speaking for your self and not for the masses. You can only speak for yourself in any situation – try not to bring others into your disagreement.
- State the facts – Similar to the above point on focusing on one thing instead of an entire perspective, it is important to be clear and succinct about the points you are trying to address. You must be able to stay to the facts in the disagreement. It’s up to the other person to decide whether or not your facts are enough to change a position.
- Clear the air, don’t attempt to win – Depending on the situation it is always best to talk about the issues that are bubbling under the surface, even if this will start a disagreement between you and your wife or another person. You need to make sure when you disagree or when you bring up these issues that you do not enter into them with the preconceived notion that you will “win” the argument. Instead, go into the situation with the idea that you want to clear the air helps keep disagreements from escalating into arguments.
- Validate the other perspective – One way to bring someone to a point where they will listen with an open mind is to validate their perspective. This does not mean that you agree with their perspective, but it does mean you understand what they are saying. Think empathy here. By doing this, it lowers defenses and raises awareness of other points of view.
- Agree to disagree / Consider compromise – There are going to be many situations where you will not see eye to eye with another person. In these situations, both people may need to either compromise their own positions or agree to disagree. Agreeing to disagree does not denigrate your position in any way, but it does validate the other person’s position, make them feel respected and help them to not have any hard feelings.
What’s Your Relationship IQ?
1) The number one predictor of divorce is:
a) Ongoing disagreement over money and financial issues.
b) The habitual avoidance of conflict.
c) Yelling and screaming during fights.
2) Couples that “go the distance”—whose marriages are successful—have fewer disagreements about the three core issues: sex, money, and housework.
True or False?
3) Couples that are constantly yelling or complaining are doomed.
True or false?
4) When discussing a problem or disagreement, it is important to:
a) Keep feelings out of the discussion, and try to stick to the facts.
b) Be sure you can accurately state your partner’s position, including his or her feelings and fears about the
issue being discussed.
c) Focus on practical solutions—on solving the problem. Too much discussion can sidetrack you.
5) Extramarital involvement occurs in happy marriages and is not necessarily a symptom of a distressed relationship. True or False?
6) After the birth of the first child:
a) There is little impact on the marriage; the quality of a marriage depends more on issues of couple compatibility.
b) The marriage enters the “warm glow” stage and stays there for several years.
c) Marital satisfaction drops.
7) Couples should try to resolve most of their disagreements as soon as they com up. True or False?
1) b. Which is sad, because we usually avoid conflict precisely because we are so much in love, and we fear that disagreeing or fighting might cause a divorce. We’re aware that there has been a 50-percent divorce rate for 30 years, and we’re scared. But the way to have a happy marriage is to understand that disagreement is a normal and expected part of any loving relationship and to learn how to handle the inevitable disagreements that will come up.
2) False. Research shows that the couples that make it and the couples that fail disagree the same amount. They also disagree about all the same issues, and there are five core issues, not three—add children and in-laws/friends to the list. It turns out it’s not whether you disagree that makes a difference (that’s normal and very much to be expected); it’s how you handle your disagreements that matters.
3) False. Yelling, complaining, crying, and even revisiting the same issue “over and over and over” might be annoying, but it’s behaviors like avoidance, disengagement, contempt, blame, criticism, and “the silent treatment” that lead to divorce. Complaining is saying, “It drives me totally crazy when you call and get the answering machine, and don’t leave a message!” Criticism is, “You are so inconsiderate! You never leave a message when you call.” Contempt is deadly: “Some people know what an answering machine is for. I guess that takes a brain. More proof that you’re as dumb as your mother.” Complaining—even if you yell, even if it’s the same old complaint—brings up the issues. That’s a good thing. Criticism and contempt erode love.
4) b. Many disagreements have nothing to do with the facts, and everything to do with our feelings about them. It is crucial that you understand each other’s positions—both what you think about the issue, and also how you feel about it, your fears, ambivalence, and dreams. Oftentimes understanding and mutual respect are all you really need; some issues don’t have solutions. In fact, most disagreements in a marriage have no solution—they are chronic or “irreconcilable.” Couples simply need to how to manage them and keep them from contaminating the rest of the marriage. Mary Matalin and James Carville are the poster couple for how this can work.
5) True. Many people who have affairs report that their marriage is fine, they love their spouse and family, and they don’t love their paramour—they just wanted excitement or variety and deluded themselves into thinking that if they were clear about that then it wouldn’t hurt anyone. Frank Pittman, M.D., author of Private Lies and Grow Up!, says a man’s male relatives’ and buddies’ views on monogamy are a better predictor of affairs than the quality of the marital relationship. For example, if a Kennedy was faithful for too long, his dad might have asked if he was eating his Wheaties. Barry McCarthy, Ph.D., author of Rekindling Desire, agrees. McCarthy believes that a commitment to honesty is as important as a commitment to monogamy. Often couples discuss how they will deal with money, kids, and housework before they marry, but not what they’re going to do when sex gets stale or someone’s attracted to a coworker or neighbor.
6) c. There is so much more to disagree about. This is when couples really need skills. In 70 percent of couples, marital satisfaction drops during the three months before and the three months after the birth of the first child.
7) False. All couples have approximately ten issues they will never resolve. If you switch partners you’ll just get ten new issues, and they are highly likely to be more complicated the second time around—especially if kids are involved. What’s important is to develop a dialogue or “dance” with your particular set of irreconcilable differences, just as you would cope with a chronic bad back or trick knee. You don’t like them, you wish they weren’t there, but you keep talking about them and learn how to live with them.