How to Change the Energy of an Argument

We have all been there. We were simply talking to someone in our lives and, without trying, we find ourselves in the middle of an argument. Suddenly we were in a struggle, squared off in a contest to determine a winner and a loser. We feel anxious and hurtful as the person we care about turns into our adversary after just a few words.

I have been working as a counselor with people for many years and have a basic understanding of how this happens and what to do about it. The basic process is easy to articulate but takes effort and perseverance to carry out.

If you watch people argue, you should notice that the actors are not listening with any empathy. Sometimes they do not listen at all as they interrupt each other, talk over each other, and talk more and more loudly. Does this ever help? Of course, it does not help, never has helped and never will magically begin working.

Not only are people not listening to each other, they are not thinking either. Being in a verbal “fight” is a physiological experience much like a physical fight. The heart beats faster, sending blood to the muscles, preparing the body for “fight or flight”. For all of us, feeling like this negates our ability to listen or think—the very things necessary for communication. As the argument progresses, things just get worse. It only escalates till something happens that is regretted and/or someone leaves, with no progress.

When you find yourself in this situation, the answer is not to talk louder or act upset or threatening in any way, but to intentionally try to relax and focus on what the other person is saying. Listen carefully (no matter how difficult this is) and prove that you are listening by telling them what you are hearing. You will be surprised how being heard can help the other person relax a great deal. This is what you want. Why? Because you want a relaxed, unthreatened person (with their entire brain working) to be able to pay attention to you when it is your chance to speak.

Try this sometime. It is not manipulative. This is simply how communication works. You can follow these guidelines or not, but arguing actually annoys, threatens and exhausts everyone involved. Listening is amazing and it always works to avoid the heartbreak of the “fight.” It is your decision to listen (which works) or turn up the volume (which never works).

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