Before we start talking about arguments and effective communication, let’s define what we mean by these terms.
communication |kəˌmyoōnəˈkā sh ən|
• the successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings
ORIGIN: late Middle English : from Old French comunicacion, from Latin communicatio(n-), from the verb communicare ‘to share’ (see communicate ).
Also, here is the definition of argument for our purposes as well, so that we know what we are talking about:
• an exchange of diverging or opposite views, typically a heated or angry one.
• a reason or set of reasons given with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.
ORIGIN: Middle English (in the sense [process of reasoning] ): via Old French from Latin argumentum, from arguere ‘make clear, prove, accuse.’
Now that it is clear what the difference is between the two let’s see how we can start communicating effectively instead of arguing. If you happen to prefer arguing, than you can just skip this article. I will not be offended in the least.
Let’s say at the beginning that heated arguments and anger are caused by fear and loss of power. When we identify with our opinions and positions, we perceive any disagreement as a threat to our person. As if somehow our identity will be diminished if we admit that we may be wrong and thus lose an argument. Being right becomes tantamount to personal survival. Needless to say, this is completely automatic reaction aimed at survival of our ego. The first step in controlling anger is as always to become aware of it and then recognize that our fear is groundless. We do not die from losing an argument. This is the first step in transforming an argument into communication; chill out and lose the fear.
If you do not want to get into argument in the first place, it is important to get a little prepared before hand as well as being aware of your behavior during the communication. Here are some things to keep in mind.
Before any encounter starts make sure that you have a mutual purpose, or agreed upon reason for the conversation. In other words that both of you want to talk about something although you may wish for different outcome. This process of agreement starts with your commitment to have the issue resolved and dissolved into a win/win situation. Without this initial and unwavering commitment on your part there is no hope for meaningful resolution, and arguments will most certainly persevere.
So, in preparation for conversation first learn what your partner’s story is. Do not presume that you know. Your knowledge probably comes from hearsay or from your interpretations of his behavior. Either of these sources may be inaccurate. Find out what information you missed, or didn’t have access to. What past experiences influenced him? What is his reasoning why he did what he did? What were his intentions (not your interpretations and thoughts about his intentions). What are his feelings? How this situation affects him? What is at stake? While “finding out” his story make sure you are not spying on him or doing anything out of integrity. As they say in court, illegally acquired evidence is not admissible. In your case, it kills the further conversation about your issue and turns into the issue of trust.
Next thing is to express your views and feelings. Your goal is to express your views and feelings about the situation or an event clearly, honestly and respectfully. A word of caution: Expressing your feelings does not mean that you “dump” your feelings onto your partner. You should talk about your feelings not demonstrating them in your behavior. You can say that you are angry. But do not attack her to show her how much. Without expressing your feelings try to communicate your views, intentions, feelings and contribution to the problem or the issue at hand. In other words you can share your story. If your partner is willing to listen at all, the chances are that after such an honest and brave encounter you may start to actually cooperate and have a productive and mature conversation where you will be able to brainstorm creative ways to satisfy both of your needs and ensure a workable way to resolve your conflict.
As it is important to have a mutual purpose for a conversation it is as important to have mutual respect. You must consciously prepare for this in advance, create a mindset. Any show of disrespect for her will produce a defensive reaction and conversation will immediately become unsafe. The moment that disrespect is shown the conversation is no longer about the original purpose – it is about defending her dignity and at that point any communication will come to a screeching halt. If you are shown disrespect do not get “hooked”. Stay true to your values and do not just automatically, emotionally react. Keep showing respect and request that you be shown one if conversation is to continue. Keep eye on the ball i.e. on the original purpose.
Final step in preparation is to ensure that you have conducive environment for a conversation, proper setting. (It is difficult to have a good conversation when you are not physically comfortable, cold, in a noisy environment with no privacy.) Do both of you have time, are you ready to have a frank discussion, are both of you in a mood for tackling the problems at hand, etc.?
Stay tuned. Next time we will talk about some things to keep in mind during the conversation that will get your differences effectively resolved.
Fred Kofman’s phenomenal book “Conscious Business” inspired me to write this article. Thank you.