Rules of engagement for an argument

With the pressures of being cooped up with someone building, it is almost inevitable that, just like a pressure cooker, the lid will explode, something has to give.

If you find yourself in this situation, it might help to bear in mind a few basic rules for a constructive argument. Is there such a thing as a constructive argument? Sure there is,
as long as you have a clear understanding of why you are going into it and what you want to come out the other side.

Here are my basic guidelines:

  1. Never argue on alcohol – it always ends in tears.
  2. If you can, choose the time and place. A crowded restaurant (remember those?) or a family get-together are not the best times to discuss, or argue about, personal issues.
    Know when to argue, and when to walk away.
  3. If you are the one who is “starting the argument”, if there is something that you want to clear the air about, then be very clear what that issue is, what your grievance is.
  4. If something crops up that you feel needs to be discussed, do it as soon as you can.
    Don’t let it fester so that you chuck it into the pot at a later date – “and another thing …”
  5. Stick to the key issue. Don’t bring up “stuff” from weeks or months ago. Don’t bring other
    people into it unless they are very relevant. Don’t get emotional – stick to the facts.
  6. If it is not you that has “started the argument”, respect the fact that, to the other person, it is important enough to warrant that. Engage, don’t say things like, “oh not that again …”
  7. Listen to what the other person is saying. Really listen. If it helps, feed it back – “so what you are saying is …..” . That tells them that you are taking it seriously, and helps to avoid any misunderstandings.
  8. Not all communication is verbal. As well as listening, look at the other person’s body language, their expressions – as they will be doing to you, too.
  9. If you are arguing with someone you know well, you know their triggers, you know how to press their buttons. Don’t do it. This is not the time for hurtful comments, insults or personal remarks that you may well regret later.
  10. When you talk, keep your voice down, don’t shout. Talk softly, and a little more slowly than you usually would. That encourages the other person to listen, and to take in what you are saying. It also avoids hurtling headlong into a loud, shouty slanging match.
  11. If the other person starts going off track, bringing in other issues, red herrings – call it out.
    Bring them back to centre, calmly and quietly. “Can we get back to talking about …..”
  12. Explain to the other person the result of what they do – it may be that they simply don’t understand. “When you do (A), I interpret that as (B) and that makes me feel (C) …”
  13. Find some common ground. Compromise. Maintain the relationship. Right now, if you are cooped up together, that is more important than ever.
  14. Remember the good things about the other person. Bring the argument to a definite close with some definite conclusions. Then go and get some fresh air, blow that stale energy away and get on with your lives!