How to End an Argument

Contributed by Betsy Butterick - Founding Partner of Success for Teams and The Coaches Coach & Communication Specialist at Butterick Creative Consulting

For much of my life I was that person who “didn’t like confrontation”. Arguing or fighting with someone tied my stomach in knots and knowing that someone was upset with me left me feeling sick until the matter was resolved.

With time, a little maturity, and plenty of practice I’ve been able to reframe “confrontation” as “caring conversation”; understanding that without the negative connotation, confrontation can be a very helpful, direct, and respect-filled process of communication.

Just as confrontations can yield valuable results, arguments can actually improve relationships and deepen the connection between people when tackled skillfully. In service of finding the silver lining in any tiff, here is what I’ve observed over the years as the most effective way to end an argument.

1. Apologize - Identify something in the context of the argument for which you are genuinely sorry for having said or done. There exists a common misconception that the first to say “I’m sorry” loses. In truth, the first to say, “I’m sorry” gifts themself initial control of the arguments resolution. A sincere apology is much like putting your weapon down – an unmistakable gesture of a desire for peace.

Note: Saying, “Well I’m sorry you don’t see it my way” isn’t the type of apology we’re looking for here. If you’re struggling to find something to apologize for try something along the lines of, “I’m sorry our last conversation ended the way that it did.” Remember, this is a peace offering.

2. Accountability – Take accountability for your role in the argument by using “I” statements. Express your perspective or interpretation of the situation while taking complete ownership of your words and actions. If at any point during the argument you feel you were out of line or acted inappropriately, this is the perfect time to admit it openly and honestly.

3. Acknowledge – Recognize the viewpoint, feelings, opinion or position of the other person. This is the part where you can articulate the differences or points of contention in the argument without being combative. Doing so shows that you have heard and understand the other side of the argument (even if you don’t agree).

4. Ask – Inquire about what steps can be taken to resolve the issue at hand. Even something as simple as, “Can we agree to disagree on this one?” signals that you are making an effort to move towards resolution.

5. Accept – To accept is to recognize that people will move through their own process at their own pace. Accepting means doing your part to bring about peace, and then letting the resolution develop without expectation. Accept that despite your best efforts some folks may choose to hold on to anger, or will need time or space before they are ready to engage again. 

Ending an argument isn’t a linear process and you can move through the steps above in whatever way best suits your resolution. Below is an example for resolving an argument that arose from causing someone to be late.

“Can we talk about what happened yesterday?” (Ask) “I know how important it is to you to be on time” (Acknowledge) “and I’m sorry for making us late for the show” (Apologize). “I wanted to finish the project I was working on before picking you up, but I realize now that it could have waited, and that my decision was selfish” (Accountability).

Armed with this knowledge, may you fight the good fight and bring peaceful resolution to battles big and small.

What My PC Taught Me

Contributed by Betsy Butterick - Founding Partner of Success for Teams and The Coaches Coach & Communication Specialist at Butterick Creative Consulting

Though I grew up in a Mac family I sometimes use a PC for work. Before a webinar yesterday my PC alerted me that it needed to update. I began the process and after a few minutes a blue screen popped up with the following message, 

“Working on updates 3%
Don’t turn off your PC. This will take a while.
Your PC will restart several times.”

I sat looking at the screen and began thinking about that message and how it applies not just to computers, but also to people.
Think about all the times you’ve interacted with others while some major update is processing internally. Except there’s no blue screen. No clear indication that we’re going through something and may not be operating at our best.
Sometimes we lack the words to say, “I’m not okay” or “I could use some help” or “there’s a lot going on but I don’t want to talk about it”… all the while silently hoping that people will be patient with us.

“please don’t turn me off… this may take a while.”

Life is full of updates. May we support each other through all the restarts.

Difficult Conversations - if you avoid them like the plague here are some steps toward a cure

by Betsy Butterick, The Coaches' Coach & Communication Specialist

The most frequent barrier I’ve observed when working with teams on their communication is avoidance of or inability to engage in conflict and confrontation. It’s a plague on success to which no one is immune - head coaches, assistant coaches, players, administrators - and from which programs suffer unnecessarily. I offer the following article as an antidote to the afflicted who find themselves in need of a cure.

There's an exercise I like to do in workshops where I ask participants to raise one arm above their head and point at the ceiling with one finger. I then ask them to start drawing clockwise circles on the ceiling. Once they start, I ask them to keep pointing up and drawing clockwise circles as they slowly drop their elbow, bringing their hand down in front of their eyes, and then below their chin. When they get below their chin I ask, "Are you still going clockwise?" (Try it! The answer is no, and the reason is that your perspective changed. The exercise started by looking at the circles from below, but finished by looking at them from above).

The point here is that when we change our perspective we can have an entirely different experience. If you find yourself fearful of or outright avoiding difficult conversations then changing your perspective around conflict is where we should start. For myself, reframing conflict as "caring conversation" – a conversation I need to have with someone because I care about them - was the beginning of a new relationship with something that many people fear.

The goal as you reframe what conflict means to you is to get to a point where the consequences of not having difficult conversations outweigh your fear of having them. Often the most difficult things to say are also the most important. (Imagine being a doctor and not telling a patient that they have a life-threatening disease because you didn't want them to be upset). That's an extreme example but you can scale it back to situations we encounter every day...

Conflict feels shitty. And, manure fertilizes what would otherwise be ordinary dirt into a nutrient rich place where good things can grow. Challenge yourself to see conflict for what it is - emotionally charged conversation which can either feel like crap or can be opportunities to nurture relationships, build trust, and connect with others in a meaningful way.

Difficult conversations are usually difficult because they involve high emotions on one or both sides. When engaging in a difficult conversation, make things easier by taking the emotion out of it as much as possible. Stick to facts instead of opinions. If you criticize, criticize the behavior, never the person. Use "I" statements in an effort to keep the recipient from closing off immediately or unnecessarily.

The balance to taking the emotion out is to keep the humanity in. During difficult conversations it is important to make the person you’re conversing with feel seen, valued and appreciated. When appropriate, genuinely acknowledge the work they have done, or their effort or intention or whatever it is that you observed them trying to do well (even if they've failed).

Often difficult conversations are challenging because people cling so tightly to their perspective or their side of the story. Whenever appropriate, share your interpretation and then check for congruency. Statements like, "If I'm understanding correctly, what you're saying is ____" or "What I'm hearing you say is _____. Is that right?" Give ample space for the other person to explain but also to feel understood. [You don't have to agree with them, but you do need to make them feel that they've been heard].

As for time and place, the best advice I can offer is to intentionally create space for the conversation to occur. Ask the person you’d like to speak with when they would have a few minutes to chat about something that's been on your mind. Ideally pick an open space to have the conversation – a quiet place outdoors or in a room with lots of natural light. Take steps to remove any physical barriers between yourself and the other person; instead of sitting behind your desk, move your chair to sit on the same side or alongside the other. Once you’ve minimized distractions, barriers, and time constraints around an important conversation its much easier to have open dialogue.

From there, entering into dialogue that allows for mutual contribution toward next steps is what typically results in a positive outcome for all involved.

Coaches, if you’d like to develop your individual skills around engaging in difficult conversations for positive outcome or have me work with your team in this regard, let’s connect. Thanks for reading!

The storm is coming!!!

by Molly Grisham, Leadership Development Consultant

During the month of August, I worked with a large number of athletic teams, college student groups, and educators who were gearing up for the school year. Most of them brought me in to do team building. While the focus for each group was different most teams/groups at least touched on communication issues, conflict resolution, and teamwork.

I worked with one college group that had just moved into their dorm rooms that day. They literally just met each other. After our first session, one of the students said to me, “thank you so much for being here! We’ve never been this close as a group!” I fought the urge to say, “Um, yeah, well you just met 12 hours ago, so you haven’t had much time for drama!”

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We know that in the process of building a team/group you will go through several stages of development. The four standard stages are: forming, storming, norming, and performing. The clients I worked with this month were all in the forming stage which is a very happy place to be. Everyone is on their best behavior, the sky is the limit, and life couldn’t be better! But with each group, I warned them about what was coming – the storming stage!

Too many teams/groups fear the storming stage. While it can feel like a set back (“we were so happy and now we are not happy”) this is NOT a setback, it is actually a step forward towards a healthy and authentic team or group! Here are some ways to deal with the storm:

  1. Prepare and plan! During the forming stage, it is important to educate your team/group on the four stages of team development. There is a natural assumption that the forming stage will last forever. This is a false sense of reality, in fact, a team/group can NOT be successful if they stay in the forming stage because they aren’t an authentic team yet. By talking with your team/group about the different stages you can prepare them for what will come. It is also important during the forming stage that you develop the skills you will need to navigate the storming stage. I often remind teams/groups that the work we are doing now will be needed when the storm arrives. If you don’t prepare and have a plan you may have a team/group that gets stuck in the storming stage.
  2. Acknowledge where you are. Too many teams/groups fail to even acknowledge that they have entered the storming stage! When you acknowledge where you are you can put your plan and skills into action. Remember the storming stage IS a step forward and you should celebrate progress! By simply acknowledging that you have entered a new stage you are able to refocus your team/group on your plan for this stage of development. 
  3. Clarify roles. Teams/groups often get stuck in the storming stage because the lack of clarity leads to chaos and in the chaos a team/group loses their sense of connection. For the leader, it may seem obvious in regards to who needs to fill what role, but as shifting takes place a sense of direction may be lost which can lead to frustration.  It is critical in the storming stage that leaders clarify roles with great detail.
  4. Articulate the value of each role. While team/group members may be asked to serve in a role they would not have picked for themselves they are more likely to embrace their role if they understand the value in their given role. Look for moments to celebrate people who are making the team/group better within their given role. Make a point of articulating the value of every single role.
  5. Communicate that this isn’t a permanent role. It will be important that you help your people to develop additional skills so that in the future they have the potential to serve in more desired roles. For example, on a soccer team during the storming stage, a player may discover that she is the 3rd string goal keeper and she isn’t likely to get playing time this season. This may be a disappointment but it is manageable if she understands that this role isn’t permanent, it is simply where she ranks today.

While the storming stage isn’t easy we need to repurpose this stage of team/group development. Instead of seeing it as frustrating, disappointing, or as a set back consider celebrating this stage because you are one stage closer to become an authentic high performing team/group.

Ultimately, the storm will lead you to a better place.

If you’d like to talk about how I can help your team/group to be better equipped to move through the storm please reach out. Remember, the first step is to prepare!