2 Lessons I Learned on How to Handle a Heated Argument

Nov 09, 2019

Photo by Christian Erfurt on Unsplash

I'm assuming you've been in a heated exchange before, right? Of course you have. You're a human being! 

And I was in one just the other day with someone who, for the purposes of this post, we'll call Bob.

The conversation started in typical fashion - an exchange of "how are you's" and general life updates. Once we got past the pleasantries, we started on a topic that we had clashed over in the past.

It turns out that Bob actually many unexpressed thoughts and feelings about this topic. We usually avoid talking about this because, in the past, it got us both very agitated. That did not deter us this time. 

And by us, I mean him. Let me explain.

I'm not trying to make Bob the bad guy in any way. I'm glad Bob was saying what he wanted to say. By keeping all his sentiments bottled in, I'm clear that it was blocking us from having a great relationship together. The more he got to express, the more this "stuff" could get out of our way.

Do you know that feeling? When something is "there" between you and someone else? There isn't anything physically "there" per se. It is something in the "space" between you two. And it hinders you both from being fully 100% authentic and self-expressed with one another.

So, Bob took the opportunity to tell me what he really wanted to say. And it turns out his thoughts run perfectly counter to my beliefs. You can imagine that we were both feeling quite on edge and irritated.

But I had recently come to a realization that I wanted to share with you when it comes to situations like this: your opinion doesn't make a difference.

I know this statement seems kind of brash, but read on. As I listened, trying to get a word in, I decided to give up being right (about my perspective) and simply listen.

And I listened a lot.

In the span of 40 minutes, I must have spoken a cumulative 100 words. I took the opportunity to listen, to really listen, and let Bob say what he felt needed to be said.

And do you want to know what difference his opinion made for me?

Nothing. His 40-minute rant, despite me intently listening the entire time, made absolutely no difference for me. I still believe what I believe.

And I want you to know: I really tried on his perspectives. I wasn't just "hearing" him, like words coming at me. I was listening to what he said. I was trying on his perspective like a new pair of shoes: I would take his opinions, put them on, walk around in them a bit and see what they felt like.

And still, no difference was made.

This is a common phenomenon that happens when we try to "convince" one another of something. Sometimes, it does have the intended effect. But most of the time, all it creates is more resistance. The "convincee" simply digs their heels in even more.

A big part of why I was left unconvinced is because I didn't feel heard nor understood.

But one productive thing did come out of the exchange: he felt better about what he had to say, and we ended the conversation on a very positive note. He felt heard and understood, and I really got to hear his thoughts on the matter.

Now, am I feeling complete about the conversation? Oh, heck no. But that doesn't mean I won't get to say what I want to say. It's just not going to happen in this conversation.

Remember: our most difficult conversations rarely get resolved in 1 single conversation. It usually takes many, many conversations to get to a point of resolution. 

In my case, the conversation will definitely continue. And it's predictable that it will be several more conversations before I can fully express myself and my thoughts. Bob will not be ready to listen until he feels heard and understood. And I'm willing to bet there is a whole lot more to hear and understand.

What's great about all of this is that we've now begun moving in the right direction on this topic. Before, we would just spit our opinions at each other. Now there is at least some degree of listening happening.

Is there someone in your life that you frequently argue with, be it over a specific topic or not? How do those heated exchanges usually go down? Do you see a pattern or is it a bit different every time? Are you willing to try on just listening and holding your opinion back?

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