The Human Equation

Serial killers, self-reliance, and everything in between

Nine Ways to Lose an Argument (Even if You're Right)

Here are guaranteed ways to fuel the flames of conflict.

Here I was; nineteen and head over heels in love with a guy I secretly believed was better looking and smarter than I was.  The last thing I wanted to do was rock the boat in our relationship.  So, for months, I bit my tongue when I was annoyed by things that he did (was late, “teased” a little too much, changed plans at the last minute). 

Of course, this is – and was – a recipe for disaster.  Sooner or later, there would be a straw that would break my camel’s back and out it would come – every frustration, irritation and annoyance that I had held in.  Temporarily, I would feel such relief, as if I were purging myself of all the pent-up emotion that had been weighing me down.  Unfortunately, the fall-out from this barrage would confirm my worst fears; 1) that standing up for myself might do irreparable damage to my relationship and 2) that I would wind up apologizing – and “being wrong” – for taking up for myself.   

Don’t Sabotage Yourself

If you’re uncomfortable with conflict, as many of us are, it can be hard to muster the courage to tackle a difficult topic.  This can result in a vicious cycle; our discomfort leads us to communicate in a way that guarantees we’ll fail, confirming our worst fears about interpersonal conflict.  We’ll talk about ways to resolve an argument in future posts; here’s a tongue-in-cheek look at ways to guarantee you won’t.  

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  • Hit “below the belt." Make sure you attack areas of personal sensitivity, like the person’s physical appearance, personality, character, or trustworthiness.
  • Generalize. Use words like "never" or "always." Not only will it guarantee that your partner-in-argument will become defensive, it will give him or her loophole.  After all, it’s rare that a person never or always does something.
  • Stockpile. Why settle for a battle when you can start a war?  The next time you’re in an argument, bring up every grievance and hurt feeling in the history of your relationship.
  • Clam up. Who doesn’t love the silent treatment?  Start it when the other person is most vulnerable, so wait until the other person is genuinely expressing his or her distress.
  • Yell.  You know if you say it loud enough, you’re guaranteed to get the other person to see the light.  Plus, it gets him or her to shut up.
  • Assume the worst.  Yeah, your manager said she gave you a “3” out of 5 on your performance evaluation because you’ve been slacking off lately, but you know it’s because she’s jealous of your superior intelligence and wants to knock you down a peg or two.  Always assume the other person has an ulterior motive, especially when s/he tells you something you don’t like.
  • Insist that “most people” would also see things your way. In one-on-one disagreement, it’s always useful to find ways to gang up on the other person.  One way is to insist that any reasonable/sane/smart (you fill in the blank) person would agree with you.
  • Find common ground and use it to show how superior you are.  “I’m stressed too, but I still make sure I exercise.”  “I also have a nanny and understand she can get sick.  That’s why I made sure I have a backup daycare.”  Yes, these may be good solutions for this person going forward, but they’re not going to be helpful in the heat of an argument.
  • Go the distance.  Remember; there’s no such thing as “pick your battles.”  Be prepared to argue every point in every disagreement until you’ve beaten the other person down.  And never compromise.

 

The Bottom Line

English novelist Joseph Conrad said, “He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.”  And , all too often, the wrong words carry more weight than the truth.

 

Joni E. Johnston, Psy.D, is the author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Psychology.

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