3 Tactics to Defuse Any Argument

What if there were a way to defuse or prevent any argument?

Two businessmen discussing project at workplace

How often do you get into an argument that keeps escalating and you don't know how to solve it or get out of it? How often do you avoid interactions with certain people because the likelihood of the conversation turning into an argument is high?

What if there were a way to defuse or prevent any argument? Better yet, let's make it three ways.

1. Walk six feet in the other person's shoes.

You've probably heard the saying, "You can't understand someone until you've walked a mile in their shoes." When you're in an argument with someone, instead of trading verbal blows, pause and ask yourself, "What's this like for the other person right now?" You'll discover that you can't be sincerely curious about what someone else is feeling and be angry at them at the same time.

Years ago, I did this with a business partner. Instead of verbally attacking him after he had said something offensive to me, I thought, "What's this like for him right now?" My answer was that he probably didn't like where our exchange was heading either because it had always ended badly.

Instead of lashing back at him, I paused and said, "Do you like where this is going? Because you know where it usually ends up."

He was taken aback and then said, "No, I can't stand it when we get into these tiffs."

I then asked, "Do you have any idea how we can keep it from going there?"

With that, he smiled and said, "No, but you're doing good!"

2. Focus on why they're frustrated.

When someone is angry at you and you respond with, "Stop yelling," "Stop being so angry" or "You sound upset," it often makes matters worse. However, people don't become as defensive if you use the word "frustrated" because it sounds less judgmental.

The "FUD crud" tactic (frustrated, upset and disappointed) consists of saying "You sound frustrated, and I think you're holding back" to a person who is angry or venting after they pause following a rant. When you say that, they'll often become dumbfounded and disarmed because you're validating how they feel as opposed to taking issue with it.

At that point, they may utter, "Huh?" or "What?" out of confusion. When they do, respond with, "You sound frustrated, and I think you're holding back because I think you're also feeling upset and disappointed. If that's true, fill me in so maybe we can fix this together."

You've essentially given them a path to get things off their chest and talk things through. And by the time they do, without your taking issue with it, they're often much calmer. Then, you can have a more constructive conversation.

3. Be proactive versus reactive.

An ounce of proactive prevention can help you avoid a ton of reactive messes that you have to clean up and that waste enormous amounts of time.

I am a great fan and colleague of famed executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, who has said, "When you focus on the future before anyone has screwed up, rather than reacting after they have, you will not only have a calmer conversation, but you may prevent many arguments from even happening."

When you are about to begin working with another person or even a group from another culture, generation, gender preference or race, use the following proactive conflict prevention strategies:

1. Start by asking the other person or group if there is anything people from other cultures, genders, races, etc., do or don't do that triggers a negative reaction. Let them know that the last thing you want to do is upset or offend them in any way. This way, you are more aware of what you should and shouldn't do or say and can avoid creating a negative situation.

2. Be sure to acknowledge and verify what that person or group is telling you by responding with something like, "What you are saying is too important for me to misunderstand. What I heard you say is (then repeat what they told you). Did I hear that correctly?" Then, wait for them to either confirm or correct what you said. This will deepen their commitment to having a positive working relationship with you.

3. Also, offer to share anything that may trigger you or your people. Let them know that, either way, you will do your best to create a positive working relationship moving forward.

4. Lastly, check in every so often to see how you are doing in keeping your commitment in regard to those behaviors and how you can improve.

Something I also believe is helpful is adopting a "Michelangelo mindset." This will enable you to realize an effective way through any argument instead of having them escalate by seeing possibility in a seemingly impossible situation, just as Michelangelo did when he said, "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

Doing the above may seem unnatural because it is so uncommon. However, making the effort to ensure a positive relationship will cause others to greatly respect you — because nobody else ever does it.

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