Ten steps to stop an argument unleashing your inner animal
22:17 GMT, 6 October 2012
Mention the word 'argument' and images of grimacing faces and finger-jabbing spring to mind. But discussing two differing sets of opinions need not end up this way.
An argument is an art form which, if carried out efficiently, can be a useful way of understanding how people feel, as well as acting as a vehicle by which to make positive changes in a relationship.
Indeed, over the course of my career as a relationship therapist, I have seen countless couples turn negative feelings towards each other into fresh, exciting futures. So, how to proceed
An argument is an art form which, if carried out efficiently, can be a useful way of understanding how people feel
1. DON'T BE AN ANIMAL
Examine how you are feeling emotionally by checking where you are on a scale of one to ten
Before starting an argument, it is vital you check your internal barometer.
Examine how you are feeling emotionally by checking where you are on a scale of one to ten – one being serene and ten positively furious.
If you’re above seven-and-a-half, don’t even think about entering into a discussion.
When you become angry, your body displays physical symptoms.
You will regress into a more animal state because neurons are not fired quickly enough to an area of the brain called the amygdala, which is responsible for processing our emotions.
At this point you are no longer capable of engaging in proper, rational thought and so revert to a primitive ‘fight-or-flight’ mode.
In this state your body is preparing itself to either fight, be it physically or verbally, or run away to seek shelter.
You will notice physical symptoms such as a faster heartbeat, sweaty palms, a high temperature, feeling tense and sometimes extreme thoughts of violence.
When you feel like this, take some time out to reflect on why you are so angry or upset.
2. TAKE A BREATHER
If taking only a short break, try to breathe slowly and deeply – it helps to signal to your brain that you are not in a dangerous situation.
Your nervous system will start to behave normally and you will be able to assess your situation more objectively.
3. ARE THINGS REALLY THAT BAD
Sometimes a simple form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy, may be of use.
Note what is making you angry, think about why it makes you angry and then try to assess whether the situation really is as bad as you think it is. Very often it is not.
4. REMEMBER YOUR GOAL
When you finally decide to enter into an argument, make sure you go in with the correct attitude.
Remember that the goal is to be happy, not to be in the right. You should want to resolve the situation, not just compete or indulge in a pointless fight.
5. MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Know what the aim of the conflict is – do you want an apology or a change in behaviour, for example Write it down.
You will need to be equipped with appropriate language – verbal and physical – to make your desires or grievances clear.
It can be easy to meander on to other, irrelevant issues in your relationship in the heat of the moment. Try not to as it will confuse the purpose of the argument and slow down any chance of resolution.
6. THE GENTLE TOUCH
It is almost impossible to pretend you are not angry or upset when you are, but try not to hold a defensive posture.
Aim not to hunch your shoulders, fold your arms or gesticulate too wildly. If possible, try to sit opposite the person you are arguing with and, if it’s your partner or someone you are very close to, perhaps even place your hand on theirs.
Keep reminding yourself that the purpose of the conflict is for both people to come out of the other side as happy as possible. This will almost undoubtedly mean compromise, and the power of touch hints at this.
7. STOP, LOOK AND LISTEN
More important than talking is listening. You must show the other person that you are willing and able to hear both sides of the story being discussed.
Indeed, hearing their side might even help contextualise your own feelings, making it easier to understand why you have ended up having a row in the first place.
And when you do start talking, do so with caution. Arguments are not blaming games – that chance you have to vocalise your emotions is not just a cue to hurl abuse at someone.
8. POSITIVE THINKING
Instead of telling someone what they have done wrong and how they have made you feel, centre the discussion on yourself and bring in positive examples of the other person’s behaviour to help convey your point.
For example, instead of saying ‘You forgot my birthday and you made me feel upset’, try ‘I felt upset when you forgot my birthday because you are usually so thoughtful.’
This immediately makes the tone less aggressive, limits the extent of fault placed on that person and makes it easier for them to understand why you’re unhappy.
9. THE FUTURE'S BRIGHT
Try not to fall back on past mistakes or conflicts when expressing the way you feel.
The chances are that the person you are fighting with will be only too aware of past misdemeanours and neither they nor you can do anything to change them.
Instead, focus on the here and now, so there can be resolution and reconciliation.
10. THERE’S STRENGTH IN WEAKNESS
It is also crucial to remember that admitting a weakness, or when you have made a mistake, is a definite strength and in many cases is the key to ending a dispute.
And if all else fails, get help. It can be too easy to enter into what seems to be a never-ending cycle of vicious disagreements.
If you think you need a third party to get involved and help arbitrate conversations, there are therapists available to help you.