How to Stop an Argument
We should probably start by acknowledging that arguments, in general, are rarely helpful or productive. Most of the time, they consist of people defending their positions and/or their judgement, and can result in broken friendships, relationships, and/or family connections. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to prevent people from getting into these contentious discussions (which seem to increase in frequency and intensity around election time), and if you would like to know how to stop an argument in the future, there is a question that should do the trick.
The question is, “Are you wanting to understand my position, or do you just want to convince me that I’m wrong?”
Of course, this requires that we are seeking to understand versus simply convince them that they are wrong. Otherwise, we will sound rather hypocritical, which could have the effect of once again intensifying the argument. However, if we have indeed been seeking to understand before being understood, but the person on the other side of the fence just wants to argue, then this question could be most effective.
Why? Because it requires them to answer in a way that gives us very good information. If they do want to understand, we can do our best to explain our position in such a way that mutual understanding is our goal. However, if they simply want to convince us that we are wrong, we can excuse ourselves and attend to other aspects of life that are more meaningful.
For those who follow my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy, you know that the tendency to argue often is driven by the lower 20% of the brain. It’s much like the desire to fight, which is triggered by our middle brain, or limbic system misinterpreting some negative situation as dangerous, and throwing us into the part of the brain designed to deal with danger (the brainstem). To ensure that we are making good decisions and using our time wisely, we want to engage the clear, confident, creative part of the brain (the neocortex), and this can only be sustained when mutual understanding is the goal of the discussion.
This, of course, also assumes that we are not enjoying arguing as some do. There are people who like to debate/argue with others, and when this is a mutually-agreed upon experience, then there is no problem. In these circumstances, the “combatants” go at it, and afterwards, go have a drink, or make love, or whatever, seemingly unfazed by the intensity of the disagreement.
However, if you are like most people who do not enjoy arguing, especially with someone who only wants to convince you that you are wrong, then my hope is that this question can help, because, hey, life is too short to waste arguing with others. Or, as one version of the quote goes, “Never wrestle or argue with a pig. You just get dirty while the pig enjoys it.”
~ All the best, Dr. Bill