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Resolve Arguments Like a Pro with 7 Proven Techniques

fightingcouple.jpgArguing with your spouse? Feuding with your boss? Fighting with your parents or teachers? Adopt a new frame of mind and try solving that dispute one more time.

As a team leader for a large software organization, I sometimes had to help feuding teammates settle an argument. Over the years, I taught my teammates 7 tried and true conflict resolution techniques (some invented, others learned) — and the good news is that you can use these techniques to settle your own arguments, at work or at home.

Each of the 7 techniques below provides a separate and unique frame of mind with which to approach the steps of conflict resolution.

magnifying.jpgTechnique #1: The Observer

Imagine yourself as an observer of the argument instead of a participant. Analyze your own position in the argument as if from the outside looking in. Find a room where you can be alone and write a short paragraph expressing each person’s point of view, including your own – these paragraphs are for your eyes only.

Acting as a dispassionate observer will help you understand the goals of every party involved in the dispute.

magnifying.jpgTechnique #2: The Doppelganger

Temporarily become your opponent. Put yourself in his shoes, internalizing the logic of his argument until you can feel it. If you are unable to create an emotional connection to your opponent’s point of view, at least attempt to supplant your own logic with his.

Your goal is not to become subservient to your opponent’s cause (not at all), but rather to understand and empathize with him so you will be more capable of understanding his needs as you work to address your own.

Tip: If you find yourself unable to truly understand your opponents’ point of view while using the Observer or Doppelganger techniques, try asking your friends or family to help you. Their natural reaction may be to take your side in the argument, so make sure you tell them you’re not looking for sympathy – you’re looking for help understanding a perspective other than your own.

magnifying.jpgTechnique #3: The Common Thread

You and your opponent may seem to disagree on everything under the sun, but look hard to find an element of the debate you agree upon. See if a solution can be reached that uses common ground as a foundation.

magnifying.jpgTechnique #4: Low Hanging Fruit

If you and your opponent have multiple disputes, resolve the easiest ones first. This will build an atmosphere of trust and accomplishment that will help you resolve tougher disputes.

magnifying.jpg

Technique #5: The Psychologist

Often in personal relationships (and sometimes in professional ones too), people argue about one thing, when the real cause of the argument is some other unspoken thing. For example, a married couple might argue about who will wash the dishes when the underlying problem is that someone in the relationship feels under-appreciated or taken for granted.

If you suspect there is an underlying cause for the argument, you can short-circuit the entire debate by attacking the underlying cause directly. Be calm and understanding, as the underlying cause is clearly a hot-button subject.

magnifying.jpgTechnique #6: The Robot

If you’re too emotional to work out a solution, try turning your heated emotions completely off (which may take time and distance). The key here is using logic in place of emotion, and it’s a helpful technique when emotion is a significant barrier.

magnifying.jpgTechnique #7: The Overflowing Cup

If you have a lot of positive history with a person, you may be able to focus on the positive feelings you have for that person instead of the negative feelings associated with this specific dispute. Use those positive feelings as an impetus for a solution. This technique can be helpfulwhen both parties recognize that the underlying relationship is more important than the argument at hand.

These 7 simple conflict resolution techniques cannot make the core components of an argument any simpler, but they do provide helpful frames of mind that can make it easier to find a solution.

The best technique to use will vary depending upon your own comfort level with the technique, the general environment, and the nature of the argument you’re trying to resolve. 

For example, I have found the Observer and Doppelganger techniques incredibly helpful in team-oriented work environments where multiple points of view must be reconciled before the team can move forward (ie software development).

And if you find yourself arguing a lot with a spouse or friend over petty things, try using the Psychologist technique because there may be a deeper problem brooding beneath the surface.

Each of these techniques has helped me, and I’m hopeful you will find something in this list that will help you the next time you need to resolve a tough conflict. 

JohnPlace

39 Responses to “Resolve Arguments Like a Pro with 7 Proven Techniques”

  • Duncan says:

    Technique 8 – the assassin.

    Imagine you are a hired hit man, and every time you smile at your opponent you are really smiling at the fact that you poisoned their drink, or you booby trapped their car to explode. Even though they may think they are winning the argument, you know that they will not live to enjoy it for long.

    Note, you do not need to poison or booby trap their car. Just imagine that part.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Although I’m not sure “the assassin” addition to my list helps create an atmosphere of agreement and resolution, I appreciate the humor and the fresh perspective.

    Welcome to my blog, Duncan. :)

  • Ogre says:

    The CEO (CFO, CTO, ETC.)
    Agree with everything your “opponent” says, thus defusing the situation. Then go and stab them in the back anyway.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks for the laugh, Ogre. :)

  • T.J. says:

    Fair dues man, that was an awesome read. I really like the “Low Hanging Fruit” technique : D

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks TJ!

    Low Hanging Fruit can be very helpful whenever there are multiple issues on the table of varying severity. It’s one of my favorites too.

  • R. Goofenhoff says:

    Hi John,
    Speaking of dishes, when arguing about splitting anything, chores or whatever
    the “I divide you pick” Deal almost always works.
    One person divides the chores or cake or whatever into the most equal two parts
    that they can, if you think you may get stuck with either half you will divide
    carefully, then you gratuitously offer
    the other person their choice.
    No one can complain .

  • JohnPlace says:

    Hello R. Goofenhoff.

    That’s a really great technique.

  • [...] that my friends here would enjoy reading. Feel free to drop in and leave a comment, if you like. Resolve Arguments Like a Pro with 7 Proven Techniques __________________ 11 Causes of Procrastination and Their Cures Resolve Arguments like a Pro [...]

  • JohnPlace says:

    I want to apologize because I believe several comments in this thread accidentally got erased during a bulk edit this morning.

    Truly sorry.

  • Liara Covert says:

    Hi John. My response must’ve been one of the ones that was accidentally erased. In anutshell, I was interested in how you would deal with individuals who didn’t respond favorably to your seven techniques, such as people who seem to go further than “agree to disagree.” These are the kinds of people who simply desire to make your life difficult.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Sorry about that, Liara. I accidentally erased one of my own comments (and a few others) at the same time.

    Regarding your question, it sounds like you’re describing a difficult personality type. Even with difficult personalities, the first step usually involves making an attempt to understand the viewpoint of your opponent, since it’s difficult to change a perspective without understanding it.

    Having said that, you make an excellent point. Sometimes a Win-Win is not possible in negotiation. The proper way to handle these situations depends a lot upon context. For example, a professional dispute may fall within the purview of a manager, or a personal dispute may fall within the purview of a court.

    While there’s no promise you’ll find what you’re looking for, I am writing a series of articles on how to deal with difficult people, and my next article will explain my strategies for changing someone’s mind without offending them — these are all strategies that I’ve used numerous times in my own life (professionally and personally) with great success.

    I have found that 95% of the people in the world will act fairly if you act fairly in kind. The remaining 5% are a challenge to us all!

    Good luck.

    –John

  • Liara Covert says:

    Thanks for your feedback John. I remind myself encountering ‘difficult people’ is also a state of mind and a question of perception. Such scenarios draw attention to some my personality own traits, offer me the chance to develop insight into myself as well as strengthen useful traits like patience, resilience, listening and resourcefulness.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Excellent observations, Liara.

  • Andrew G.R. says:

    I really enjoyed this list. I never realized how much of a R-O-B-O-T I really am!

  • Duncan says:

    Win-Win may be the ideal, although some folks end up with Win-Lose. I have come across people who are going for Lose-Lose. They are prepared to take a hit as long as they take the other guy down as well. It was described to me by a friend as “We are all living on a tropical island, the volcano erupts and everyone dies.” It is not much fun for anyone, except perhaps the disruptive one.

    When you identify someone who appears to approach negotiations like a suicide bomber, find a quick exit. You will not win with this person.

  • JohnPlace says:

    Andrew,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Duncan,

    Excellent observation. I have found that 95% of the people in the world are capable of being fair, but the remaining 5% are challenges to us all.

  • Maxim says:

    John,

    I’m really enjoying your articles. Can’t wait for my next argument. Haha.

    Thankyou.

    MAX

  • JohnPlace says:

    Thanks Maxim.

  • Jennie says:

    Dear John,
    Do you think resentment in personal and intimate relationships can be resolved, or is it a poison that will remain and kill the relationship altogether?

  • JohnPlace says:

    Jennie,

    Resentment can be resolved, but whether it will be resolved in any particular situation is highly variable.

    In personal relationships, the arguments often run deeper.

    I suppose what I’m about to say falls under the category of no-brainer dating/marriage tips, but the following questions can be very helpful for people who are deciding whether or not a relationship is worth pursuing:

    1) Does your partner consistently act in your best interest?

    2) Do you like being around your partner?

    3) Does your partner bring joy to your life?

    4)Does your partner feel the same way about you that you feel about him/her?

    Picking the right partner is 50% of the battle. Being a good partner is the other 50%.

    So yes, I think resentment in a personal relationship can be resolved. But I also think that it’s important to understand that sometimes resentment is a symptom of deeper problems — sometimes, it’s a symptom that a relationship is ill-conceived.

    These are highly personal questions that can only be answered by the individuals involved.

    Good luck to you.

  • Great article. I am so glad I found it. It reminds me of a couple of great books I read, Crucial Conversations and Crucial Confrontations. I’ll be back often!!

  • [...] so much happier when we attract a soul mate; when we bridge arguments calmly; communicate ideas confidently, without offending; when we surround ourselves with caring [...]

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  • Doug Rosbury says:

    The biggest and perhaps only real obstacle to
    happiness is ones sense of self importance or
    egotism. When you let go of that, only peasce remains. —Sincerely—Doug Rosbury

  • Doug Rosbury says:

    Correction, The spelling should be p-e-a-c-e.

  • Not that I’m totally impressed, but this is a lot more than I expected when I stumpled upon a link on SU telling that the info is awesome. Thanks.

  • Amanda says:

    I’m really enjoying your blog, John!

    Thank you for this article- some of these I’ve used and the others were very helpful to me. I like the idea of writing down your opponent’s viewpoint- I’ve done this in my head but I think writing it down would make things even clearer.

    I’d like to add two more things I’ve learned when dealing with personal conflicts:

    1. Acknowledge when your opponent is right, even if you do not think they are correct overall.
    By itemizing the disagreement and providing for what they are correct about, you show that you are being reasonable and accurate and can then address the inaccurate portions of their argument.

    2. Be prepared to change your mind.
    Admit to yourself that it is possible you are wrong, even if you do not believe you are wrong. You are asking the same thing from your “opponent”; it is only fair that you adopt this mindset yourself.

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  • Manish says:

    Hi John

    I have a daughter and a son of 22 and 20 years respectively. Very often I see them arguing on petty natters and making quite a fuss about them. Really sometimes i am very upset about this matter.

    Well when I decided to tell them how much this annoys me and the reason why they cannot talk in a better way to avoid unnecessary debates, they told me that it is normal for them to talk like this and I should not worry. In fact talking softly was not normal till they do not tease each other.

    What advice can you give me John?

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