Conflict Resolution: How Can We Stop Arguing?

How To Stop ArguingAre there some people you just keep arguing with?

Whether it’s with your partner, children, boss, colleagues, friends, parents, … sometimes relationships take a turn for the worse.

You keep arguing, you never seem to be able to agree and, no matter what you try and do to solve the issue, there doesn’t seem to be any improvement.

I’m writing this article in response to an email I received recently from one of our readers who, though having problems with a particular relationship, wanted to know if there was anything she could do to save that relationship. Hopefully this article can help her and others too who have the same question.

In this article we’ll explore three related topics and then provide an easy exercise you can use right away to explore any given relationship between two people. The three topics are:

  1. Communication
  2. Our World View
  3. Values & Expectations

What Do You Do When Things Aren’t Working?

It’s time to change something in your approach.

What you’ve tried before has obviously not worked.

You’ve got to face the situation with a new approach.

So…what else can you do?

When you can’t change the situation or the person you’re dealing with, it’s often a good solution to look inward.

In other words, what can you change about yourself that’s going to improve your relationship with someone else?

‘Why should I change myself? I’m right!’ I hear you say.

First things first…

Let’s examine this ‘I’m right!’

Let’s take a look at a trivial example argument (but just the kind of trivial thing that in a broken relationship can be blown out of all proportion).

Trivial Example Argument – The Bin Is Full

You tell your partner ‘the bin is full’. 15 minutes later, you are fuming because he still hasn’t taken the bin out. He doesn’t understand why you’re so upset. You both argue.

In your world, you’re right. You do most of the work at home, he could help you and you did tell him the bin was full.

In his world, he’s right. You haven’t asked him to do anything. If you had, he would have helped. All you did was commenting that the bin was full.

There are several lessons to be learned here.

1. Communication

Sending out the message is often not enough.

Do you ever hear yourself saying ‘but I told you that already!’ ?

In order for communication to be effective, the message which is received has to be pretty close to the message that was sent out.

This may seem quite strange but very often we are not heard or at least not understood – even by those nearest and dearest to us. Bear in mind that a large part of our communication is expressed with our tonality and our body language (so messages shouted from another room for example, could easily be mis-interpreted). Communicating is not just talking to somebody but making sure that the other person has heard you and understood what you meant.

Communicating is not just sending your message but ensuring it has been received.

If you want more you can also check out this article on How to communicate effectively.

2. We Each Have Our Own World View

Our map of the world is not the territory.

This is an NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) pre-supposition which means that we see things in our own eyes (with our experience and values) and, in doing so, we create our own version of reality. Another person will create their own version of the same reality – which will probably be different to yours (because they draw on their own experiences and values).

Our map of the world is not the territory.

In our example, we can see that both had their own version of the same event and could both justify their actions through their own experience and values.

What they have to do in order to start resolving their issues is start seeing things through the other person’s map of the world.

Do the same: Look at the situation and the argument through the other person’s eyes, with their background, with their map of the world. Put yourself in their shoes or rather in their thoughts.

If you can take a few minutes to think honestly about it you’ll probably understand better where they’re coming from and what the problem really is between you.

3. Values & Expectations

We are all different.

Something important to you might be totally irrelevant to somebody else.

I’m going to use another NLP concept to illustrate this: Intrinsic values.

Intrinsic values can be inherited, compensatory or a result of your own judgments and life experiences. They affect your decisions, your approach to life, your motivation and behavior patterns.

Mismatching of intrinsic values is a common cause of misunderstanding, stress and conflict in life.

When people speak of a personality clash it is invariably a mismatch of values.

Our values can also shape our expectations of the world and people around us, which can in turn influence our reaction to things, good or bad, when these expectations are either exceeded or not met. In general, it’s best to try and have less expectations then we are more likely to be pleasantly surprised, but in order to achieve this it may mean taking a long hard look at our core values as these can shape our expectations.

When people speak of a personality clash it is invariably a mismatch of values.

If we can’t adjust our intrinsic values, the least we can do is understand them and this will help us to manage our expectations.

Intrinsic Values Exercise

Let’s have a little exercise now.

I have listed below a list of NLP intrinsic values. They come in pairs (towards/away from, options/procedures, …). Each pair represent 2 extremes of a characteristic and each individual will fit somewhere in between. Each extreme comes with negative and positive points.

Note: For the sake of brevity I haven’t explained each one in painstaking detail. Hopefully they are clear enough from the information below, but you can always ‘google’ these or ask me in the comments.

– Go through the list and rank yourself on each intrinsic value scale.

Move Towards Goal
+ Goal oriented
– ‘Gung-ho’ / Leave things unfinished

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Move Away From Goal
+ Good risk assessment
– Overly cautious

+ Likes choices
– May procrastinate

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Procedures
+ Very efficient
– Procedure may become more important than the job

Internal Frame of Reference
+ motivated when little feedback
– may disregard sound advice

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 External Frame of Reference
+ asks and listens to other’s advice and comments
– needs constant feedback

+ looks after self
– arrogant

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Others
+ good team player to the detriment of self
– decisions based on others

+ thorough undesrtanding
– bogged down

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Global
+ good strategist
– head in the clouds

+ lives in the now
– can be late

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Through-time
+ good planner
– poor enjoyment

+ gut feeling
– emotive

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Thinking
+ logical
– efficient/cold, unfeeling

+ likes routines
– unadventurous

10 ——— 0 ——— 0 Difference
+ tries out new ideas
– for changes’ sake?

– Now, go through the list again and rank the person you’re in conflict with.

– Notice any big disparity. These will be sources of conflict.

Armed with this knowledge, you can better understand where they’re coming from. You can also decide to move slightly towards them.

Do you live in the now when your partner loves to have everything planned? Try and plan a bit more.

Is your boss a good strategist when you’re bogged down in details? Try and see the bigger picture.

If you want smoother relationships, don’t assume there’s no possible solution.

Resentment and Anger

It could well be that even though you go through the exercise above and see loud and clear the differences between you, it’s just too hard. It’s too hard because there is too much water under the bridge, you’ve had too many arguments and there is just too much hurt, anger and resentment there. Well, to let go of that anger and resentment you are going to need to forgive yourself and the other person in the relationship so that you can move one. Read our article on How to forgive (and why) to find out how to do this.

Limiting Beliefs

Another thing that could get in the way of moving forward is if you have limiting beliefs. The above exercise is really useful, but it’s not going to help you if, for example deep down you believe that you don’t deserve to be happy in your relationship (which would be a limiting belief). Read our article on limiting beliefs to find out how to smash your limiting beliefs to pieces and turn them into empowering beliefs.

A Quick Recap

Relationships are not always easy, but that’s because we’re all different. We all see the world differently.

When we communicate, most of us communicate through the ‘lens’ of our own world view, assuming the message that has been received is identical to the message which we thought we’d sent out. This is not always the case. A useful way to check this is to first of all appreciate the fact that we each have our own view of the world, then understanding as best we can the recipient’s view of the world, check how they may have received that message. Look for confirmation that your understanding was correct in their body language and what they confirm back to you. If in doubt, check.

Once we can see the other person’s point of view and understand what makes him/her tick, then we are able to communicate more clearly.

Remember also that we each have different values which drive us and influence our thoughts, decisions and expectations. Once we understand this, and our own world view as well as those of others around us we are better equipped to manage those expectations and avoid arguments. In general it is easier when we have as few expectations as possible – then we are more likely to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

It’s not always easy. It requires efforts and mental flexibility. But it’s worth trying.


Conflict Resolution: How Can We Stop Arguing? — 12 Comments

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with your first two points about not communicating effectively and about each person having their own world view. Something I’ve learned long ago is that you need to be specific about what you want to communicate.

    In fact it reminds of a girl I dated once who called me on the telephone.and was obviously upset about something. I swear that I asked her a dozen times what was wrong, but she kept saying everything was fine. Eventually I got off the phone with her because she insisted everything was ok. She called back five minutes later and was mad at me because I didn’t get out of her what she was upset about. Seriously, she just should have communicated it to me and it wouldn’t have made her mad.

    • The truth of the matter is that we all do see the world differently, so anyone who is in a relationship where communication is always clear has something I think is probably quite rare – and worth preserving by keeping the quality of communication & understanding up.

      Your example doesn’t sound too bad – I can’t say I haven’t experienced something similar (quite regularly actually) – I just thought every married/in a serious relationship man was expected to be a mind-reader…

    • Hey Francis,

      thanks so much for stopping by – I’m really pleased you liked the article and found it useful. We have lots more practical articles like this one so have a browse through the sections or use the search facility if there’s something in particular you’re looking for. Just let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with,

      take care & best wishes,

  2. Arguments can be very toxic. But it’s a natural occurance and i find that some people or some things just are not worth arguing over.
    for instance, my ex-in-laws were are from Ireland and held very strong political and religious views. I knew that if i entered in their disucssion it could turn volatile and so i would do one of two things,
    1- avoice the conversations because i knew that there was no way to have a descent discussion.
    2- Just listen and see their point of view no matter what my own opinions were. I guess this is just a way of agreeing to dissagree without letting them know that i disagreed with them..

    In my daily life i am very lucky though, my husband and have very few arguments. On some days i almost wish we would argue more. i know that sounds ludicrous but agreeing too much with someone can be negative in it’s own way.

    With my kids, it used to be easy. But since they’ve become teenagers, it’s like trying to reason with a baboon. They think they know everything but know absolutely nothing.

    I believe thought that there is anothe class of argument where you just can’t let it go and you will never agree on things. These people are the ones that need to cut ties with. I’ve done this only once in my life and he’s called my ex husband. LOL..

    Thanks Alan, great article that really made me think about some things i’ve been worried about with some family members who have been giving me grief about some recent decisions i’ve made.. GRRRR..

    • lol – trying to reason with a baboon,

      I like it – I’ll have to give that a go some day…

      sounds like an interesting challenge 😉

      I used to have a similar relationship where we never argued & i know exactly what you mean, that can also be annoying – probably better than the opposite though,

      combine this with the tapping and the baboons and I think you’re onto a winner…

    • I’ve learned to avoid some arguments too. Many times it isn’t worth battling it out especially if it is on a topic that really doesn’t matter. I guess my approach is to choose your arguments. Sometimes there is just too little to gain from them.

    • Thanks Mika,

      yep – when you get to the ‘nagging’ stage probably best to look to do something about it 😉

      take care & best wishes,

  3. Great article Alan. Sometimes refusing to see another person’s point causes more arguing. I have a friend that we get into an argument at least once a month. Lucky for us no matter how far it goes we always come back to our respect for each other. Listening is the key. Great post.

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