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.