Have you ever found yourself in an argument and wondered how you got here?
We all know someone who can start an argument with themselves. But is that you?
I never held back from an argument.
I didn’t always see the debate as an argument; after all, I was making a point.
I was fond of telling people why they were wrong and deluded.
But in all honesty, I can’t say that I ever won an argument. I might have felt buzzed up afterwards, full of adrenalin, but when the crash came, I never felt happy.
I never felt like a winner.
And that’s because no one wins an argument. It’s impossible. You can out-manoeuvre or out-shout someone, but you’re not likely to come out on top even if you think you’re right.
When to Have an Argument
Is there a right time to argue? Certainly, there’s a wrong time; this is when you’ve been stewing on something, and frustration builds up.
I’ve had many clients who believe that their anger led to explosive arguments. One, in particular, came to me because he’d been locked out of the family home and escorted to his car by the police.
He couldn’t stop arguing with his partner. He went from mild man to full Hulk in minutes.
Or at least he thought he did. He hadn’t noticed how over days or weeks, he filed away everything he perceived as a slight or if he felt he was being disrespected. And then, although it looked like he became angry and argumentative over a single comment, he reacted to his headful of thoughts and blew up.
Leaving the other person winded and confused.
Most arguments aren’t about whatever subject you’re arguing about. An argument is almost always about our state of mind rather than the subject of the argument.
My arguments were personal and often cutting. I never got into an argument about politics or religion; I was with Mark Twain when he said,
‘I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters of religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.’
Although I’m not sure that’s at all fair on monkeys.
I used to be so insecure that if anyone had a different opinion from mine, I thought they were rejecting me and my way of life.
And this was at the crux of the arguments I got into.
Is Arguing Always a Bad Thing?
You could say that there’s an argument, see what I did then, to suggest that couples, especially, should argue more, not less.
Everyone knows one couple that claims that they never argue. Now, depending on how much you enjoy a good ding-dong, you’ll see this as apathy or admirable.
I guess whether this is a good thing or not is down to whether you sweep your frustrations under the carpet out of fear of confrontation, which isn’t healthy, or you’re able to have discussions without them becoming angry or bitter.
And this comes down to how you feel about the other person at the time of the conversation.
If you’re upset and angry with the other person, you’re more likely to view everything they say or do in a negative light, but if you’re upset with a situation and not the person, the conversation is less likely to spiral down into a shouting match.
When my ‘angry’ client realised that he wasn’t reacting to what was said by his partner, but to the library of grievances in his mind, he was able to stop arguing.
The Inner Argument
By the time you say a word, you’ve gone through a whole argument in your head.
You’ve said your piece and imagined the other person’s response. But you forget that you’re playing both parts.
You forget that the other isn’t there at this moment. And when you do get to speak to the other person, they’re in a different reality.
And this is why an argument will never resolve any issue. An argument is two people in their separate realities trying to convince the other person that their reality is real. Trying to win the argument.
Who Wins an Argument?
Who wins an argument? Is it the person who shouts the loudest? Is it the person who has the last word? Is it the person that makes the other person retreat or back down?
Is that winning?
And if you ‘win’ the argument, how do you feel afterwards? As I mentioned earlier, in my arguing days, I might have thought that I had come off well after an argument and never questioned why my mood was so low.
Surely, winning is a celebration?
You might not feel good about your behaviour. And this is why arguments play over and over in your mind. The kind of thing you think about at 3 am.
Or you might believe that if you don’t argue your point and stand firm on your opinion, you might get pushed around, used and abused, or be walked over by the other person.
But is that true?
Are there only two ways? Is there only being right or being walked over? Are these the only two options?
Matthew Fisher, a psychologist, says in a 2016 study at Yale University that there are two ways to approach an argument. There is an arguing-to-learn mentality that allows you to see a different perspective, opening the door for the other person to see your point of view.
And then there’s the arguing-to-win mentality where you believe there is only one right answer:
Research tells us the reasons no one wins an argument is firstly having an illusion of argument justification, where you are so sure that you’re right you’re blind to any inconsistencies and gaps in the argument.
The other reason is when you’re too emotionally invested in the subject.
And if you do decide that the argument isn’t worth having, after all, an argument isn’t an argument if only one person argues, don’t see this as a loss; see it as a win.
How to Win an Argument by Not Having It
Ask yourself if this is the best time to have this conversation.
My partner sometimes says this to me if we both get a bit bothered, and although it makes me want to kick him in the shins, I know he’s right.
Putting off the conversation often shows it’s not worth having. How often have you been upset or angry with someone but unable to act on the feeling? Maybe you’ve had to go into a meeting or look after your children.
And you seethe for a while and argue in your head, but then you’re too busy to think about it and let it go.
And then later, when your thinking settles, you might be able to see the other person’s point of view. You might see that they were right about some things.
Or you might wonder why you were angry in the first place and be happy that you hadn’t charged into the argument.
When your thinking clears, you can see that although it looks as if your anger and upset are coming from the other person and how unreasonable you think they’re being, your reaction can only ever come from your thinking about the other person and their behaviour.
When you see this, you can return to neutral.
And if you do find yourself in a too-heated discussion, do your best to listen. To listen for points of agreement, to get curious about why the other person thinks like this, why you don’t and why you think you’re right.
I can’t remember the last time I argued.
This doesn’t mean that I agree with everyone’s ideas and opinions, but seeing through the illusion that my feeling has anything to do with the other person freed me.
I may still be attached to my point of view, but I don’t need to sneeze my opinion over someone else.
And this is a win.