One of life’s most difficult emotional situations is the argument. Whether with someone you love, despise, or don’t even know, conflict can increase anxiety and blood pressure, if not your sense of discomfort. Some people go to great lengths to avoid conflict of any kind, while others seem ready to argue at a moment’s notice. If you’re somewhere in between, as most people are, you may prefer not to argue, but are prepared to do so when necessary.
The question then becomes how to make the argument go your way.
There's plenty of social-science research on conflict and conflict resolution. We know, for example, that in close relationships, there are ways to resolve conflict that improve a couple’s ability to remain together—and other ways that can threaten it.
I’d like to tackle the more general question of how to use what we know about conflict resolution to help you in any kind of dispute, not just one with a romantic partner or family member. I’ve borrowed some ideas from an insightful review by Israeli psychologist Eran Halperin (2014) concerning the roles of emotion and emotion regulation in conflict resolution. Although Halperin applies this model to political conflict, lessons from his work also apply to disputes that operate on a personal rather than global level.
Halperin bases the paper on the cognitive model of emotions, an approach that emphasizes how people’s appraisal or thoughts about a situation shape their feelings—for example, you’re most likely to feel afraid when you feel threatened, and to feel sad when you feel that you’ve lost something. Halperin points out that people’s appraisals can be influenced by the mass media, which can shape the views of people not directly involved in a situation. For example, you may not have personally known a celebrity who has died, but constant exposure to the loss through social media and news coverage can sadden you anyway.
In an argument, your appraisal that you’re losing, your belief that you need to be “right,” and the extent to which you like the other person can all have an impact on the emotions you experience. Extrapolating from Halperin’s model, which also emphasizes the impact of other people’s reactions (such as whether they support you), your emotions can also get aroused by the desire to gain the respect of onlookers—no one enjoys being made to look ignorant in front of others, and when you feel that you’re being made the fool, your outrage only increases. But the angrier you get, the less likely you are to win, because you lose the ability to stand your logical ground.
With these considerations in mind, here are 6 key argument-winning tools.
Keep in mind: Winning an argument doesn’t necessarily mean being the only one who’s right. If your goal is to resolve a conflict, then to “win” might mean you “lose":
Follow me on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging. Feel free to join my Facebook group, "Fulfillment at Any Age," to discuss today's blog, or to ask further questions about this posting. Copyright Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. 2014
Halperin, E. (2014). Emotion, emotion regulation, and conflict resolution. Emotion Review, 6(1), 68-76. doi:10.1177/1754073913491844