“Let ‘Em Be a Hero (How to Not Win an Argument)”

When a conversation starts to shift into an argument or debate, everything falls apart. We dig into our stances and protect our opinions. We begin to establish that THEY are our OPPONENT. They need to understand some truth that we understand better. We may know that we are right and it may feel like we are being helpful, but to our conversation partner, we are simply the opponent. We think we are seeking a remedy, but we are actually seeking to win. We tell ourselves that we are listening, but I challenge you to look at yourself in those moments. Have you let go of the desire to change their opinion? Have you put your reality aside for a moment and made room for the teeny-tiny possibility that they may be correct? At the very least, that their truth may be valid – considering the experiences and information that they are working from?
It is hard to truly listen to ideas that you disagree with without feeling judgement or making mental notes of counter arguments.
This is true with massive political issues and insignificant domestic ones.
Whether we are talking about institutional racism or dirty dishes in the sink, the issues quickly become secondary once we fall into “battle mode.”
I don’t mean the issues are unimportant. But in the context of human interactions and relationships, the subject of the disagreement can be totally overshadowed by the style of communication.
It is easy to slip in overt or subtle insults. Directly or passively.
“Of course a racist would see it that way!”
“Your mom always cleaned up after you, so it makes sense that you wouldn’t know how to properly clean the kitchen.”
Once that happens, the claws are out and we defend ourselves against the attack…or go on the attack ourselves.
At this point, it is best to just walk away. No progress will happen. Neither side is going to say, “Hmmm, now that you mentioned my stupidity, I see your point. You’re right!”
Here are 2 techniques to avoid getting to the point of no return.
#1 “Tell me about the monster?”
Imagine that you are in a sci fi movie and your conversation partner just walked in and said, “there is a 6 headed monster outside and he turned the sky green!” Last time you checked there was blue sky outside and no monster. But, for the sake of argument (and just in case there is a bloodthirsty beast outside), why not try to understand what they are talking about?
Do so with compassion. The believe they have just seen a monster! Be a kind ear without falling into the temptation to respond or rebuke. “Wow. That sounds terrifying. If that is what is out there, we are in trouble.” Giving the person a voice allows you to be closer, even if you disagree with their premise. “Help me to understand what you are saying.” If they trust that you will listen, they may listen to you at a later time. But fight the urge to argue in the moment and give the impression that you were just waiting for your chance to talk.
(NOTE: this is not a technique to win an argument. It is a way to stay connected with people so you can continue to respect and value one another’s perspectives.)
#2: Let them be the hero.
When we start to fall onto different sides of an issue, you can look at it in a couple ways:
1) You are wrong / You are hurting me.
2) I believe this / I feel pain.
The first route instantly turns your partner into the bad guy*.
“Why can’t you just do the dishes!? I can’t believe you can live with such filth in the sink!”
Even if you use kind words and a calm demeanor, you have still cast them in the role of “offender.”
However, if you say, “I’m finding myself really bothered by the dishes in the sink. Could you help me keep the kitchen cleaner so I can let go of this anxiety I’m feeling?”
This route is casting yourself as the princess and allows them to be the hero. This isn’t “their” problem or their fault. It is simply *a* problem that they could alleviate and bring you joy. It feels shitty to have to prove that you are not a bad guy. It feels great to be a good guy.
These techniques are ideal when you are conversing with someone you care about. They can be used any time, but some venues (like anonymous internet conversations) make it more difficult to connect with your conversation partner.
I ain’t gonna lie. It is hard to pull back from the momentum that pulls us into arguments. But how many hours do we want to spend in debate that goes nowhere? Or more likely (and much worse) actually pushes us apart?
The “other side” are not racists, snowflakes, idiots, sheep, lazy, disrespectful, etc.. They are people dealing with the same basic fears and desires that you are. If you try to love that person instead of defeat them, you can transcend the war entirely, and pave the way to a harmonic future.
*I’m using the phrase “bad guy” and “good guy” to imply a 2 dimensional villain or hero. It does not designate gender. Like The Electric Company’s “Hey You Guys!” was a call to everyone. If this is insensitive, shoot me a note.

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