Life Lessons

Dealing With Arguments The Easy Way

Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

We all know that one person who just doesn’t get it, at least according to our reasoning. Whether it’s COVID-19 responses, fashion sense, or which coffee brand is best; you can always count on this person to launch you into a heated debate (much to the amusement of anyone listening).

The question isn’t if you will ever see eye-to-eye (chances are you won’t in this lifetime), but how to preserve a good relationship, whilst not giving up your views.

Help Me Understand

Ms Williams is a colleague of mine. We don’t always get along, but she’s taught me a lot about discussing sensitive issues. Whenever we disagree, she’ll let me take centre stage and listen to my entire perspective. Does that change her train of thought?

Not in the least. I wasn’t expecting it to.

Once I’m done, she’ll say something on the lines of,

“Okay, what is it that’s I’m not getting here.”

In short, she assumes the role of a student, instead of a teacher. Rather than concerning herself with telling me how wrong I am, she'll probe through my argument indifferently, point out any flaws she may see.

The effect is profound — she’s essentially diffused the situation.

By taking out the element of ‘I know better than you’ and looking at things objectively, it seems irrelevant to push a point home just because of who said it.

Ms Willaims turns us both into two observers, analysing something that is meaningless to us personally. I find myself taking her criticism on board willingly — it’s not aimed at me, but at the problem.

In The Real World

Although the way Ms Williams tackles disagreements is perfectly true, I will acknowledge this is rarely the norm.

Humans tend to revel in competitive conflict. For the sake of a balanced argument, many of us need to learn how to discuss topics objectively and not bring egos to the table. The following are a few tips to help stay civil when discussing conflicting views.

Start On Common Ground

I’m a dog lover. Starting a conversation by saying how annoying the barking, mangy mutts can be won’t do you any favours.

Whenever tackling a topic you know will bring up conflicting views, try to start on common ground. To keep to the same analogy, I’d say a conversation could be started by stating how time-consuming caring for an animal can be.

It’s a fact, but won’t spark up a heated debate (I may see it as spending time with my pet, whilst you may see it as a chore).

Psychologically, we tend to gravitate towards common ground. Having something we can innately agree on will make accepting different views easier.

If you are a leader or manager, actively looking for overlapping interests will colleagues will also work in your favour.

People will find you more approachable if they know you share something in common with them.

Keep An Open Mind

When I was nineteen, describing certain views I held as ‘fiery’ would have been an understatement. Ten years on, and I still hold pretty much the same views, but I’m much more relaxed about them.

Age, and a few very embarrassing moments, have taught me to question my own judgements. Instead of thinking how right I am (because I’ve been trawling the internet about this particular topic), I try to ask myself if I am missing something.

Sometimes we risk falling into the pitfall of confirmation bias.

In a nutshell, the more you research a topic, the more you will confirm your previous expectations. This can lead to subconsciously turning a blind eye to any evidence that doesn’t agree with an expected conclusion.

To prevent this from happening, I tend to purposefully look for a counter-argument, then evaluate things on a level playing field.

Listening

My first reaction to a conflicting opinion is to shut my brain off and tell them it’s rubbish.

Their opinion is a waste of space, and pollution to global intellect.

In her book, ‘Radical Candor’, Kim Scott talks about the theory of quiet listening. In order to understand an idea or point of view, it’s important to suppress the urge to defy or interrupt.

“But Dan, it just doesn’t make sense!”

It’s normal to discredit any theory we can’t perceive as correct, however, theoretically accepting it (at least for the duration of an explanation) opens the mind to a new perspective.

Yes, this is hard to do, but the results are worth the effort.

Facts Not Opinions

Opinions are like armpits, everyone has a couple.

Whatever the topic, make sure there are facts underlying your theory. It will make justifying your point of view much easier when questioned.

Making an argument for stricter border controls to limit the spread of COVID-19 is relatively easy — a google search into the spread of the pandemic is all that’s needed. Convincing someone that horses are in fact decommissioned unicorns won’t be as easy.

If All Else Fails, Leave It At That

So you’ve started on common ground, listened, kept an open mind, resorted to facts and yet you still can’t agree.

At this point, you’re tempted to point out to your colleague that their IQ is about the same as a potted plant.

Take a step back (and a few deep breaths), and evaluate the situation. Ask yourself,

What good will personal attacks do?

What do you stand to gain from ‘winning’ the argument?

In most cases, the answer to both questions will be a resounding ‘none’, apart from maybe a slight boost to your ego. Be prepared to just accept the other person’s views if you can't find a mid-point.

Disclaimer: I’m not suggesting you go along with anything others say, just be prepared to accept the fact that you won’t agree on this particular point.

It shouldn't be a reason to stress your friendship or work relations—leave it at that.

The Moral Of The Story

You’re not always right.

Considering other people’s point of view is actually quite liberating once you get the hang of it. You’ll find yourself considering different viewpoints which otherwise you wouldn't have even thought of.

At the same time, it’s important to base any decisions on facts and not opinions. Each point of view has value, and creating a comfortable environment for sharing them will enrich debates, instead of turning them competitive.

Next time you’re discussing a topic and notice an element of tension, remember the above guidelines: start on common ground, keep an open mind, listen, use facts, and be prepared to leave things at that.

I might be wrong, but I think you’ll notice a change. Good Luck!

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Daniel is a writer, senior teacher and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.

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Daniel Caruana Smith

Daniel Caruana Smith

Daniel is a writer, senior teacher and geographer based in Malta. His main passion is empowering students to fulfill their aspirations and reach their goals.

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