5 Creative Ways to Defuse an Argument

You can learn how to handle arguments creatively.

Posted Feb 01, 2019

For most of us, arguing is extremely unpleasant. As we walk through our day, we hope that most of our interactions will be satisfying and free of conflict. Unfortunately, despite the best of intentions, some interactions devolve and turn into arguments. Then we have to reach into our emotional toolbox and try our best to work our way through the argument in the most gracious way possible. This is a very trying task much of the time. There are, however, some creative ways to deal with conflict. The goal, of course, is to calm down potentially volatile situations so that you and the person entangled in the conflict can maintain your dignity and hopefully your relationship.

There are so many reasons that individuals argue. If you look at patterns, however, you will notice that you and your partner, kids, colleagues, and friends tend to argue about the same few topics over and over. Take a moment and write down the topics that are most likely to get you embroiled in conflict. Then, please join me as I describe strategies to help you creatively and effectively handle arguments.

1. If possible and only if you know the person well, try to inject a little humor into the dialogue. Here, we can take some advice from aging married couples. A 13-year study of emotional behavior in couples over time by Verstaen et al. (2018)  found that as couples age, they are more likely to use humor in their interactions. It appears that humor rather than continued bickering is the way to go. So, the next time you are in an argument with your daughter or good friend, try to lighten things up by introducing a little levity before you continue to talk things through. Be very careful of the timing because you absolutely do not want your partner in conflict to think that you are not taking them seriously. We all know that it is very aggravating when we are not taken seriously. In fact, not being taken seriously is the reason we argue with some, yes?

2. Consider a redo. I have seen this work beautifully. If things start to go very wrong either ask for a redo or provide the other person with a second chance. Here, you get a chance to start all over again on a better note. You will be surprised at how much others appreciate this. Here you are acknowledging that things can be done in a kinder and more effective manner by starting over. Let's hear it for second chances. Everyone deserves them.

3. Help the other person regain their composure. If someone says something that seems a bit rough and you are invested in the relationship, you may want to help them out of the situation that they have created. Consider saying something like "You didn't mean to say that, did you?" or "I know you don't ever intend to be unkind." You may be shocked by how often people with good intentions appreciate the chance to redeem themselves. 

4. Buy some time. If things are escalating too quickly and you find that you are losing control of your feelings and can't think clearly, then request a pause. If you can hit a pause button you may be able to avoid an unnecessary and unproductive set of exchanges. Consider saying "Now, is not a good time" or "I need some time to think about that." Let the person know that what they are saying is important and that you will come back to it. You certainly do not want to give the impression that the person's thoughts and feelings are unimportant to you. If they are, then that is an entirely different issue. If you promise to get back to someone then make sure to do just that. Making someone important feel unimportant is a terrible way to go. We all know the sinking feeling we get when someone forgets about us. There is not much that is worse than that in relationships. 

5. Pause, breathe, and think before words leave your lips. Even a 2- or 3-second pause can help you make a better choice of words. And we all know how bitter words and misunderstandings can sting. How many times have you wished that you could take your words and shove them right back into your mouth?

I hope that these strategies make life a little gentler for you. And, if despite your best intentions, a relationship is fraught with arguments, you may want to consider a bit of disengagement if possible. 

References

Verstaen,A.,Haase,C.A.,Lwi, S.J. & Levenson, R.W. Age-related changes in emotional behavior:Evidence from a 13 year longitudinal study of long-term married couples. Emotion (2018) DOI.1037