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Posts tagged ‘managing conflict’

Phrases That Make Arguments and Fights Worse

SOURCE:  Brandon Specktor/Readers Digest

When you argue, you are at your most animal. Your brain literally enters fight-or-flight mode, your heart-rate escalates, and logic and reasoning physically shut down. It’s little wonder you usually say a lot of bonehead things you end up regretting in the morning. Don’t worry: We are all guilty of the same stupidity, and sometimes the key to a painless argument is what you don’t say.

For starters, here are six research-backed phrases proven to make any bad argument worse.

Don’t mention getting calm — “Calm Down”

According to parenting experts and hostage negotiators alike, the biggest mistake most people make in an argument is denying the other person’s feelings. Think for a moment if the words “calm down” have ever actually made you calmer. More than likely, they’ve only ever made you feel more annoyed—Why does this person think I’m overreacting? He doesn’t understand me at all! Telling a person to calm down assigns them a negative emotion (be it anger, anxiety, stubbornness, etc.) while denying their actual feelings. This seeming lack of empathy can be detrimental to reaching a mutual understanding, which is a far more important outcome than “winning” an argument. So instead of telling your companion how to feel, seek first to understand how they feel. Step one: listen.

Don’t try to quiet their emotions — “Shut Up”

Always let the other person vent, no matter how long or loud that venting may be. “If the emotional level is high, your first task is to take some of the emotion out,” says Linda Hill, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. “Hold back and let them say their piece. You don’t have to agree with it, but listen.” Often times, just talking honestly about a problem is enough to make a person feel better about it (hence, therapy). And as an argument participant, know that every word your companion says is a step toward mutual understanding. Just be careful how you approach it.

Don’t fake-empathize — “I Know How You Feel”

This stock phrase almost always comes across wrong; you may be trying to say, “your emotions are valid,” but the other person will more likely hear, “I get it—so stop talking.” Instead of merely saying you understand someone’s feelings, show them by doing what FBI negotiators do: paraphrase. “The idea is to really listen to what the other side is saying and feed it back to them,” says FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss. “It’s kind of a discovery process for both sides. First of all, you’re trying to discover what’s important to them, and secondly, you’re trying to help them hear what they’re saying to find out if what they are saying makes sense.” If everyone’s on the same page, you can start moving toward reconciliation.

Don’t tell someone how to feel — “You Shouldn’t Feel That Way”

It may sound to you like you’re acknowledging the other person’s feelings, but by adding a “should” or “shouldn’t” you are condemning and judging them just as much. Psychologists call this subtractive empathy—a response that diminishes and distorts what the other person has just said, often making them feel worse. Instead of judging a feeling, try giving it a concrete name by saying something like, “You sound pretty hurt about [problem]. It doesn’t seem fair.” That’s what psychologists call additive empathy—it identifies a feeling, then adds a new layer of understanding that can lead to a potential solution. Think you have a solution? Be careful how you phrase it.

Don’t tell someone what to do — “Here’s What You Need To Do”

When the fight-or-flight response is triggered, power becomes deceptively crucial to us. Telling someone what to do takes away their power; if they listen to your advice, they may feel less smart or less autonomous, and they will resent you for that. What’s more, insisting that an answer depends solely on the other person changing their behavior removes personal responsibility from the equation, and that’s no way to make friends or learn from your mistakes. The superior phrase: “What would you like me to do?” This handy question leaves the other person with their autonomy, and proves you’re willing to meet them halfway. It also moves your brains away from fight mode, and closer to the land of logical compromise.

Don’t force a resolution — “We Need To Settle This Now”

Never fret if you can’t settle an argument in one shot. According to relationship psychologist John Gottman, PhD, 69 percent of a couple’s problems are perpetualthey will never be resolved. “By fighting over [inherent] differences, all [couples] succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage,” Gottman says. While this may sound depressing to anyone new to a serious relationship, it’s meant to be liberating. Once you realize some arguments can never be won, it makes them that much easier to drop. You fight. You make up. You move on with life. Despite what your fight-or-flight brain chemistry is telling you, “winning” doesn’t matter; most of the time, it isn’t even possible. However, pay attention to these red-flag warning signs of a toxic relationship or signs of a toxic friendship.


Relationships: Healthy Conflict

SOURCE:  Excerpted from a book by Steve Arterburn

Often the big problem with anger in marriage is not that anger sometimes appears, but how the couple handles it when it does. One of the weakest links in most relationships is how conflict is addressed and resolved.

Conflict problems come in two sizes: conflict avoidance and conflict escalation. Either can be the cause of the other.

Avoiding conflict allows issues to build to a boiling point, which upgrades them to atomic-level explosions when they come to a head. Conflict escalation, on the other hand, can be such a traumatic experience that it leads couples to avoid facing their issues altogether. The resulting cold war creates an atmosphere of tension that reduces intimacy and builds walls. The solution is not to avoid important differences, but to set ground rules for effective communication when conflict arises.

It’s a simple, three-step process.


The first rule in effective conflict resolution is to listen carefully to everything your mate is saying—both on the surface and beneath it. Failure to listen is one of the most common causes of miscommunication. As one man told his friend, “My wife says I don’t listen to her. At least, I think that’s what she said.”

To see whether you really listen to your mate, do this two-point check on yourself the next time the two of you attempt to resolve a conflict. First, when your mate begins to speak, do you find yourself getting angry and planning your response even before your mate’s first sentence is complete? Second, do you find yourself interrupting and refuting before your mate completes all he or she intends to say?

These common tendencies indicate that you are not listening. Your castle is closed, the drawbridge is up, and you are notching your arrows for the counterattack. When both partners do this, they might as well be locked in separate rooms for all the good their discussion is doing. Neither is hearing the other.

Observing sound speaker/listener techniques can do much to resolve conflicts effectively. The first rule is that one person—let’s say your spouse— has the floor at a time and holds it without interruption as long as needed to say what she feels.

The spouse should limit what she says to the subject at hand, and it’s important that she avoid being accusative. She should talk about her own thoughts and feelings concerning the controversy and not attack her husband’s point of view or motives. (“Here is why I think we need to buy that new sofa …”) That means using “I” statements instead of “you” statements. “I” statements unite, while “you” statements are interpreted as attacks and create alienation and distance. (“You never seem to notice how ragged and lumpy those cushions are.”) She should avoid name-calling, judgments, criticisms, and all-encompassing assumptions such as “you always” or “you never” statements.

You must remain quiet and listen carefully and respectfully until she finishes. Though you disagree and may be angry yourself, you must not appear bored or show contempt with body language or facial expressions. Disagreement is no excuse for disrespect.


Before you present your own view of the issue, you must paraphrase what you heard back to your wife to be sure you understood. She listens to your paraphrase without interrupting, and then she either affirms or corrects as needed. To ensure complete understanding, you should limit your paraphrase to a maximum of three sentences at a time before pausing for her affirmation or correction.


When your wife agrees that you have understood her correctly, you make your rebuttal to her original statement. As you do this, your positions reverse, and she becomes the listener, making no interruptions until you finish and then paraphrasing your words back to you as you did for her. The two of you continue this process back and forth until you reach some kind of agreement or resolution.+

You may think this procedure seems unnatural. Bingo! That’s the whole point. You already know what happens when you tackle controversy by doing what comes naturally. Having an ordered procedure tends to defuse the powder keg.


+These rules of engagement are adapted from the book, A Lasting Promise: A Christian Guide to Fighting for Your Marriage by Scott Stanley, Daniel Trathen, Savanna McCain, and Milt Bryan (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998).


Arterburn, S. (2013). 7-minute marriage solution, the: 7 things to start! 7 things to stop! 7 minutes that matter most!. Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing.


Source:  Bill Bellican

The following are some suggested, simple discussion points to have with your spouse.  The goal of the discussions would be to relate with each other at a deeper level in order to move the relationship to a higher level.  Perhaps these discussion points will lead you to add a number of other items to discuss.

1.  In what areas do we need adjustments for this stage of our marriage  (e.g., roles, functions, how we handle anger, parenting, communication)?

2.  What are our dreams (individually and as a couple)?

3.  What do we want our marriage to look like when we come to the end of the race?

4.  Who could help us do marriage better (e.g., marriage mentor, trusted friends, counselor)?

5.  What are we individually passionate about?    Do we have a “couple passion”?

6.  What are our financial goals?  Retirement plans?

7.  What are we doing individually for our health and physical fitness?

8.  What do we do for fun and leisure?  What could we start or do more of?

10. What are the best aspects of our marriage?

11. What are the areas that cause the greatest stress in our marriage?

12. What do we fear the most about our marriage in the future?

13.  What  are we looking forward to in our marriage in the future?

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