How many are needed
to Stop an Argument?

Eventually I agreed with him

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I had to laugh. It was a warm summer's day in London, many years ago, and I had just resolved an argument with my boss, David. What was so funny was his reaction. Even though I had stopped arguing, he kept insisting he was right!

It had started out as a disagreement, and soon turned into an argument. I can't even remember what it was about. David insisted that something was so, and I said it was not. He kept insisting and, even when I eventually understood his perspective, I declined to agree with him. The more he insisted he was right - and he insisted he was right most of the time - the more I dug my heels in. Eventually, we agreed to differ and I left his office to climb the narrow stairs to mine.

As I climbed the stairs, I reflected on what had just happened. I saw how obstinate I was being, and realized that arguing was just a waste of time and energy. I didn't like the way arguments made me feel, why do it? I now understood his perspective, and realized why he thought he was right.
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As soon as I reached my office, the phone rang. It was David. He wasn't going to let me get away with it. "I'm right and you're wrong!" he insisted. His obnoxious manner tempted me to continue the argument, but I now understood his perspective. "Yes, you're right," I replied. He didn't hear me.

"This is the way it is, and I'm right, you're wrong." he repeated. "I agree," I replied, "I now understand your perspective and you are right." He still didn't hear me.

We went round the loop several more times before, eventually, there was a stunned silence. It seemed to last for ages. "I'm what?" he muttered. "You're right," I repeated yet again. "I now understand your perspective, and can see you are right."

Since I had stopped disagreeing with him, there was no more resistance, and he had nothing to push against. "Well, of course I'm right," he said weakly, and I agreed yet again that indeed he was.

It's even funnier in retrospect than it was at the time. The lack of resistance put him totally off balance. My side of the argument was over as soon as I had made the effort to appreciate his perspective and was willing to let him know that I understood.

What Causes an Argument?

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When I was young, I used to argue. If I disagreed with you or what you'd said, then I would try to persuade you of the validity of my position. This, of course, meant that I was uninterested in your thoughts, I just wanted you to agree with mine.

I can’t tell you how many long and painful years it has taken me to realize that when we don’t agree, you must have another viewpoint. Your disagreement just means you see things from a different perspective!

just means

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What causes an argument? Am I responsible when I insist my viewpoint is right and therefore, since we disagree, you must be wrong? Are you the cause when you insist you are right when our viewpoints differ?

Or does it take two to have an argument? David and I were certainly arguing. We were both insisting the other must be wrong because we both knew we were right.

So we tried to convince each other while ignoring their perspective. Such close-mindedness can create tremendous problems. Yet how often do we do this? Do we sabotage our relationships, even with those closest to us, by Being Right? How common is righteousness, a disease which can be called Being Right?

Most of the time, aren't arguments just a waste of time and energy? When someone has already decided they are "right," they have chosen their position, and rarely change it. You've probably seen it before, it's best summed up as:

Don't confuse the issue with the facts!

This can generate tremendous unhappiness. So why do we do it? Because we think we are "Right!" Which brings up a very interesting question, 'Would you rather Be Right, or be happy?'

This question implies that being happy requires us to ignore our own truth, and to accept the other as right. Or to compromise which neglects our truth in some way. But this itself just perpetuates a simple yet common misunderstanding!

He had a Different Viewpoint!

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David had a different perspective on the subject. I didn't understand his perspective and he certainly didn't understand mine. So we disagreed. We were both thinking I am right also means you must be wrong!
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Now David is not me, he has a different set of values, goals, and aspirations, not to mention a totally different set of teachings and experiences. His context is different, and he has his own beliefs which form his reality. So he had his viewpoint, and who am I to say that viewpoint is invalid, to say he's wrong? Of course he was right.

Mind you, the same thing is true for me. I also have a different set of values, goals, and aspirations, not to mention a totally different upbringing and teachings. My experience as well as my context were different so how can he say I was wrong? Of course my viewpoint was right for me.

Since we were both knew we were right, we misunderstood this as therefore meaning that the other must be wrong. But this assumption closes the subject down, turns the discussion into an argument, and stops all progress. Yet does this seemingly logical assumption make any sense? Is there another meaning?

Couldn't this just mean that we don't understand the other person's viewpoint? Which simply suggests we recognize our understanding is not complete, and we need to put more effort into understanding their perspective!

This doesn't just Avoid Arguments!

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This suggests a more powerful approach - it's better to put your energy into understanding their viewpoint. And then there won't be an argument, because you will have listened to them and their perspective! And from where they stand they are right. It's just that it's not necessarily right from where you stand!

Their perspective may indeed be severely limited. But so is yours! Hopefully less so, but still limited! When you realize your viewpoint really is limited, then the solution becomes obvious - expand it! Is there anybody who has a truly unlimited perspective?

So put in the effort to really understand their position. Everyone desires to be listened to, an argument may simply be a desire to be heard. Instead of getting into an argument, rather respond along the following lines:

"That's very interesting, I have no idea of how you can see it that way, won't you please explain your perspective to me."

Then listen carefully. This lets them know they're heard, engages them in an interesting conversation and, most importantly, you learn something new about them.

Sometimes it will even make sense to incorporate their viewpoint. Then you will have a higher, more effective perspective. And becoming more effective is good - it enables you to do more with less.

When you see that their position is right (for them) then you can agree with them. They think they are right and you do agree with them - because from their perspective you see they are right! So why would you argue?

If they Refuse to Reciprocate?

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They'll choose what they think is right for them, even though they may be sincerely wrong. All you can do is make the right choice, the most effective one for you.

It doesn't matter if they are willing to understand your view-point or not. For many people, the important thing is to Be Right. So let them!

Why? When they sincerely think their viewpoint is the only correct one, they may continue arguing. But your willingness to see their perspective as right for them does not mean you have to abandon yours as right for you.

So even if it's only you who is prepared to listen carefully to their perspective, you both win. They win because you have listened to them, they see you care about their opinion. So their negative feelings subside. You win with the extra power from understanding their different perspective. You both win when your relationship becomes less strained, more friendly.

This is not to imply you should compromise. A compromise usually leaves both parties feeling unhappy, and hence does little to create a real long term solution. An argument rarely happens when one person is prepared to listen carefully to the other's viewpoint and not make the other wrong. Which only takes one person!

Rather Remove the Cause!

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Nor does this mean you should avoid arguments by refusing to engage in the discussion. Avoiding an argument is a strategy to, err... avoid. This is Chapter Four in Portia Nelson’s brilliant poem "Autobiography in Five Short Chapters". Yet there’s an even more powerful perspective in Chapter Five. Remove the cause!

How do you remove the cause? By letting the other person know you understand their perspective is right for them.

Whenever you find yourself disagreeing with someone, you have two choices. You can either ignore it, or deal with it. If you ignore it, then the negative emotions are not dealt with, they fester, and can eventually sour the relationship.

If you deal with it, then it makes sense to find out why the other person is taking the position they take. If it’s a more effective position that your own, you can adopt it. If you see your position makes more sense, they also have the choice of adopting it, or being obstinate.

Whichever they choose, you have the happy result of having investigated the matter, and ending up with a more effective perspective. Even if you didn’t change your mind, you are more sure of your perspective and so your position becomes stronger.

When you are open-minded enough to investigate, the truth wins - which means you win!

Wanna Reduce your Stress?

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Choose your next step right now:

Food for Thought

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“The primary motivation of large segments of society is that of gaining and winning rather than identifying affirmable truth.”

Dr. David Hawkins, M.D., Ph.D. Psychiatrist,
internationally famous author of "Truth vs Falsehood"

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