Arguing 101: Learn the Rules


December 20, 2007   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Do you have an aversion to conflict? Would you rather avoid those delicate topics rather than meet them head on?

Here’s a list of guidelines for levelheaded and fair-minded discussion that will help you break down those seemingly impenetrable walls you’ve both erected and bring you closer together. While no one can remember all of these, let alone implement them in a heated argument, surely a couple will strike a chord with you.

    1. Once you start, finish. Make a commitment to one another to stay until the issue is resolved or both parties respectfully agree to take a break because of a deadlock. Schedule a firm time to resume the discussion.


  • No screaming. If you’re thinking that some people don’t hear you until you jump up and down and shriek, you’re right, but not in the case of communicating one-to-one. You already have an audience. Keep it respectable and civilized.



  • Don’t touch (or otherwise be physical). You each need your own space to listen, be heard, and work things out in your own minds. Even an arm around the shoulder can feel domineering at times.



  • Any subject is fair game. Open your heart and mind and be willing to delve into those dark places. Nothing is too delicate if it’s important to either of you.



  • No name calling. Referring to your discussion partner a cold, cruel, manipulative *%!^# won’t score you any points for originality, nor will it provide the safe forum for further learning and growth. Nothing ends a discussion faster than the deafening silence that comes after you’ve offended someone.



  • Don’t intentionally put the person down. Deliberately saying things to hurt another’s feelings is downright malicious and oppressive. You don’t have to be cruel to be kind. Self-restraint is the better part of valor, as well as gentleness and understanding.



  • Don’t Lecture. Nobody wants to be told ‘You should …” People yearn to be engaged as equals in conversation, not preached to.



  • Keep it simple. Discuss one subject at a time. You may understand how one situation or event relates to another, but the other person might not. Don’t confuse things by trying to explain these relationships or expecting them to see things as you do, and don’t make this a complaint session. Nothing will be resolved if you do.



  • Let the other person have a chance to speak. This isn’t the time to dazzle your friend or partner with rhetoric and the filibuster skills you learned in the debate club. Give him or her a chance to communicate with you.



  • Listen. I cannot say it any better than Brenda Ueland: “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we really listen to people there is an alternating current, and this recharges us so that we never get tired of each other. We are constantly being re-created.”



  • Describe what you’re feeling. Don’t assume that the other person knows. Own your feelings and share them.



  • Allow the other person to have his/her own feelings. Try to recognize them by being alert, aware, and compassionate.



  • Don’t tell the other party what they’re feeling. It doesn’t do any good to exhibit your aptitude for mind-reading. Avoid enlightening your discussion-mate with your perceived version of what they’re thinking and believing.



  • Talk only about the here and now. Bringing ancient events into the discussion doesn’t help. Use history for reference only – as a time line – instead of rehashing those events that cannot be changed.



  • Leave ‘others’ out of the dialogue. ‘They’ have a way of complicating things. Keep your communications on a one-to-one level. This keeps you focused on what matters to each of you and you’ll achieve that intimacy you’re seeking.



  • Don’t be a ‘yes man.’ This isn’t the time to suck up by acting the role of the team player. Agreement must be genuine, not compromised for the sake of false harmony.



  • Don’t be a naysayer. It too easy to simply oppose ideas or to just say “no.’ It’s much more difficult, and productive, to do the heavy lifting of understanding the other’s position and finding common ground in your opposing views.


Differences of opinion can arise in any relationship, especially truly healthy ones. Furthermore, misunderstandings have a way of perpetuating themselves. But when misinterpretations and disagreements are worked through, relationships will grow closer, more expressive, and deeply meaningful. This only happens, however, when respect, compassion, and forgiveness are the cornerstones of any give-and-take.

Written for Dumb Little Man by David B. Bohl, Husband, Father, Friend, Lifestyle Coach, Author, Entrepreneur, and creator of Slow Down FAST. For more info go to Slow Down Fast and visit his blog at Slow Down Fast blog.


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