Conflict is part of life. We can handle it in a godly way, or brush it under the rug. Dr. Caroline Leaf teaches us six ways to argue well.
“Did you know fighting can be good for your mental health? Arguing can be beneficial for both your health and your relationships, IF done correctly. In this blog I am going to give six points on how to argue, and the mental health benefits of arguing well.
I grew up in a family where many things were swept under the rug, which led to a number of relationship problems even though we loved each other. This is a common problem in many families and friendships, and causes more issues in the long run than if the people involved had just had a big fight, which tends to get everything out into the open (a crucial step to healing!) Learning how to argue well can in fact be one of the most useful skills, and a great way to improve not only our mental health but also relationships!
What are some of the ways you can learn to argue well?
1. Get clarification:
Before you respond to someone and get upset, make sure you understand what the other person means. Ask for clarification before reacting, especially if you feel triggered by what they are saying or doing. It may help if you try restate what they said to see if you understand them correctly—try see things from their angle as calmly as you can. Remember, assumptions are the mother of all mess ups! Always take a few breathes before you respond in an argument. Don’t assume that you know what the other person is thinking, because in all likelihood you do not, even if you know that person well! I still have to practice this with my husband, even though I have known him for over 30 years!
Examining and changing your perceptions will be hard at first, but if you practice this over 21 to 63 days you can build it into your brain as a mental habit, which will help you argue better in the future!
2. Practice Grace:
We all need a little grace and compassion at times, because we are all human! It is so important to give people a second chance, and try understand why they may be reacting in a certain way, and try to figure out why someone is upset. Maybe they are just having a bad day, or are going through something difficult. Always consider this before you just assume they are acting this way to antagonize you. Try to see the best first—this is what I call a “grace attitude”. This means seeing this person in a compassionate and understanding way, which changes the kind of mental energy you generate towards that person which can help diffuse a potentially explosive situation.
3. Make self-reflection and self-regulation a habit:
Take the time to think about your own thoughts and behavior as you are at the start or in the midst of an argument. Maybe you hurt that person? Are your words and actions “triggering” them? Be honest with yourself. Are you looking at the person through the past, that is how they used to be? Even I do this with my husband—I occasionally think my husband is not listening to me like he did in the past, even though my husband has dramatically improved the way he engages with me. Remember, the past doesn’t have to define the future! People can and do change, and we all fail at times. Do not hold someone’s present actions against past behaviors.
Also, ask yourself a lot of WHY questions, because there is always a reason behind what we say and do. And be sure to let go of your ego! Ask yourself what good will pride do in this situation? Indeed, when we let go of our ego, we generate what quantum physics shows are “love waves” that really help improve the way people react to us. How?
My new app Switch is a great tool for helping you make self-reflection and self-regulation a habit. It is based on my 5-step program, which is designed to help you identify and eliminate the root of your toxic thoughts and reactions, and can help you build healthy, new thinking habits that can improve your relationships. You can also find out more on toxic thinking and how to change negative mindsets in my book Switch On Your Brain and Think, Learn, Succeed.
4. Watch your verbal and non-verbal communication:
Become aware of what you say and your body language. Do not make sweeping statements, such as “you are always like this” or “you never listen”; these trigger words will only make things worse, so choose your words carefully and watch how you construct sentences. Do not use language that will make someone go on the defensive. This is counterproductive and will only make things worse. Practice using non-judgmental or accusatory speech.
It is also important to consider your body language, which is 50% of your communication! Stress and anger have physical repercussions, such as the tensing of your muscles, which can make a situation more tense and combative. So, when you are in the midst of an argument, take note of your posture, facial expressions and body movements. Minimize fast and aggressive movements, and focus on loosening the tension in your face.
5. Take Action:
Don’t just say sorry, take action! Acknowledge your own role/responsibility in the argument, and be prepared to give an authentic apology, not just a quick or irritated “I’m sorry”! Really try to change your behavior so that the other person can see that you are genuinely apologetic. Be “solution-minded”: think of tangible, constructive ways you can improve the situation and your relationship to show that you are willing to change. In my own case with my husband Mac, we both try remember to go through the steps outlined in this blog as we argue, which helps us have less heated, shorter and constructive arguments, which, in turn, helps us grow in our relationship!
6. Conduct an argument autopsy:
After an argument, it is always important to analyze why things ended up the way they did. We cannot fix something if we do not know why it “broke” in the first place! Once you are calm, think about how you can learn from the situation, how you can improve your communication and relationship—don’t just “move on” or the same thing can happen again. Use this “autopsy” process as a preventative measure: it is a way to understand how to prevent this kind of argument in the future. It may be helpful to discuss with other person what can be done in the future to prevent or manage a re-occurrence of the same argument, or to discuss the situation with someone you trust. Set boundaries and take note of toxic thought patterns.
The key to a good “mental autopsy” is understanding. When you start to understand your arguments, you can learn from them, which helps you stop overthinking and making assumptions next time you interact with that person (for more on this see this blog) and learn from past experiences (as I spoke about in a recent blog and podcast). A mental autopsy helps you move forward and build strong relationships that help you succeed in life.
What are the benefits of arguing well?
1. Learning to argue well prevents us from building a toxic thought associated with the relationship in question, which can cause brain damage and influence future interactions/perceptions in that relationship (which will only make future arguments worse!). When we argue in a good way, and learn how to “agree to disagree”, we can improve our mental health and our relationships, because we learn that we all see the world in a different way, and will never agree with everything someone says or does, and this is okay! We will also learn to not let past hurts and painful interactions control present and future interactions.
2. We can choose how we want to use our mental energy. There is a limit to how much energy we have in a day. Do we want to waste it on rehashing a toxic though pattern that is based on our assumptions, which will drain our energy and make us feel tired and sick? Or do we want to use our limited energy to build a healthy response into our brains, one that is based on getting to the root of an issue and improving our relationships and ability to communicate? When we use our mental energy well, we can lay a strong, positive foundation for all our relationships because we learn how to listen and communicate in a constructive and helpful way, increasing our wisdom and building strong ties that help us navigate life’s challenges. Choose where you want to spend your energy.
3. Assumptions, anger, irritation and so on take a lot of mental energy and time, and can create neurochemical chaos in the brain, which not only affects our ability to think clearly, but can also impact all of our relationships. When we learn to argue well, however, we redirect this energy in a positive way, helping build neural networks in the mind that lay the foundation for successful, lasting bonds. Furthermore, learning to argue well prevents chaotic thinking, which has a direct impact on our mental and physical health.
4. You cannot suppress thoughts and emotions—they will end up coming up in some way or another, and can cause a host of mental and physical health issues, including a compromised immune system! Good arguments may be painful, but they get things out into the open, which helps you deal with them so they do not keep coming back to haunt you and affect your mental and physical wellbeing. One hour of arguing properly may just save you years of relationship and emotional problems!
5. We can never learn or grow if don’t fight through our problems. Not dealing with an issue doesn’t make it go away, and it certainly doesn’t help us learn how to improve our relationships. To deal with and learn from an issue we first have to admit there is one, which is why arguing is so important: it sheds light on our relationship problems and where we need to progress. We are connected to each other because we live in an entangled world—we cannot escape human relationship.
I really recommend you learn these rules and use them immediately when you begin to argue with anyone, even if you have to read them on notes or in a journal the first few times! They have really helped me learn how to argue well with my own family, and have dramatically improved our ability to communicate. Indeed, it is important not to fear arguments. Don’t stay in them long, don’t let your ego rule, and don’t forget to analyze and learn from them! And remember, just one hour of arguing properly may save you years of relationship problems!
www.drleaf.com. Used by permission.