23.07.2021 |

Episode #7 of the course Mastering your conversations by John Robin


Welcome back to the course!

In yesterday’s lesson, we unpacked and explored how to be authentically assertive. I mentioned there are three ways to be more assertive, depending on which communication style you find yourself in at a given point in a conversation.

The passive “Yes, ma’am” style can be corrected by being honest and using the “I disagree with you, but” standpoint.

How about when we are being aggressive? What does it look like, and how can we correct it by shifting to a more assertive stance?

Welcome to our lesson on arguments!


How to Argue without Drawing Blood

No one likes arguments. Shouting, swearing, grumbling, feeling adrenaline surge in your chest, or tears stinging your eyes. No one enjoys these kinds of conversations where emotions are high and respect is replaced with anger, or even hate.

Almost all the time, an argument is built on aggressive communication. It might start with one person being aggressive, and the other being passive-aggressive, but the point is, as soon as one person draws blood, both will soon be out for blood. Depending on how much you prefer to avoid conflict, this will either lead to evasive maneuvers, or an all-out assault with words and efforts to put the other person in their place.

From a conversation pillow perspective, imagine you and the other speaker piled together around the pillow in a wrestling match with punching, pinching, twisting arms, or whatever necessary, to get hold of the pillow.

Arguments, however, are important. Just like we saw in yesterday’s lesson, when we can realize that we disagree with other people, we start to realize how diversely other people can look at the world.

However, arguments themselves can be unproductive, if they are not handled assertively. So, let’s look at how we can shift aggressive arguments toward assertive ones.

I like to think of this from the perspective of warfare.

Let’s imagine a war in the traditional sense. On one field, one party has their soldiers line up, weapons at hand. On the other side, the other party is ready to attack and parry.

Each party has a leader, who will call their soldiers forward. If it’s time to fight, then soldier-by-soldier, blood will be spilled. The battle is over when most of the soldiers in one party are dead, or when one party retreats.

This might well describe how we feel, emotionally, when we engage in an upsetting argument. It definitely is aggressive!

However, let’s imagine warfare from another perspective.

Both armies are lined up, ready to draw blood. But, before either general makes a call, one party sends a negotiator.

This negotiator is not armed. They come to the center field, and ask to speak to the other party.

Of course, the other party could just kill this negotiator. But most people, unless they are cruel psychopaths, would see this gesture as one of vulnerability, and likely send out their negotiator.

Negotiations begin, and, if both sides can express how they feel without weapons, both armies march away, and war is averted.

Now, let’s apply this to a conversation, by way of our tip of the day.


Tip of the Day: The “I Might Be Wrong” Standpoint

The moment someone begins to argue with you and you feel those trademark signs that war is on the table—anxiety, adrenaline, raised voice, tense shoulders, frowning, possibly swearing, etc.—the moment you sense this, imagine it is time to STOP, and send out your negotiator.

Here’s an example of this in action.

[Another person] “How can you even say that? I am so judging you right now.”

[You, taking a deep breath, pausing and throwing away the instinctive rebuttal you were ready to unleash] “Okay. Let’s go back. I really didn’t mean to say it that way. So…”

What I want you to notice in this example is how the other person first of all used words to signal a STOP:

“Okay. Let’s go back.”

Also notice that they took a deep breath. This is analogous to an army sending out a negotiator instead of calling soldiers forward. The biggest tool to use to change an aggressive argument to an assertive one is to develop your ability to notice that you are about to engage in conversation warfare. The moment you notice this, you can pause, and begin again—aka, send out your negotiator.

The negotiator comes out in the form of a phrase like, “I really didn’t mean to say it that way…” or “I probably didn’t word that well…”

You want to avoid implying the other person is wrong, as well as making it sound like you are wrong. So avoid phrases like “I might have given the wrong idea” or “You might not be understanding me.”

Also, don’t actually use “I might be wrong” because it can lead to an argument about how wrong you are—aka, the negotiator gets killed in action.

You want your words to suggest, “I might be wrong,” so that you can enter neutral ground. Your goal is to give both yourself and the other person a chance to re-communicate ideas that led to sharp disagreement. You might still disagree, but if you can maintain this negotiating ground, you’ll switch gears from an aggressive argument to something a bit more like a debate.

Instead of shouting and storming out of the room, you end with either a respectful “agree to disagree” stance—aka, war delayed—or agreement that followed from the respectful discussion—aka, war averted.

“I might be wrong” is a great standpoint. It lets you shift away from either person being right. It lets you focus instead on what you will see together through negotiation.

In other words, you are being a negotiator, and inviting their inner negotiator to the table to join you.

In other words, you are both being assertive, while still having an argument.

What could have been an aggressive argument now shifts toward being an assertive argument, framed on respecting needs, and assuming disagreeing is actually a matter of collaborating around diverse perspectives.

I personally have used this technique many times. The key is the “pause, and take a deep breath” part.

The moment you sense the battalions are lined up and blood is about to be drawn—notice this, then send out your inner negotiator, in the form of phrases like, “Okay. Let’s go back…”

And take a deep breath.

Work on this technique. It will get better with practice, as you learn ways to shift aggressive arguments toward assertive ones, and become a master of some of the most dangerous conversations.

Stay tuned for more in-the-trenches skills tomorrow, as we move on to passive-aggressive communication, and its assertive resolution—aka, criticism.


Recommended book

Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone by Mark Goulston


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