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How to Argue Effectively - the DON'T List

Updated on December 9, 2016

If you want someone to listen to you, be aware of what will "put their back up" and dilute your message

Stop and think before you speak !
Stop and think before you speak !

As concerns arguing, by picking your battles, fighthing fair and taking time outs as necessary, you can more easily avoid unnecessary strife in your relationships.

When an argument escalates out of control, things can get said in the heat of the moment that cannot be taken back. The result may be long term grief and/or resentment and damage to your relationship with a valued friend, colleague or loved one.

Having the last word does not denote superiority or that you are right !

DON’T insist on always having the last word.

Some people and some topics are not worth spending time arguing with or about. Choose your battles accordingly and know when not to initiate an argument and when not to engage in an argument someone else has commenced. Once things descend into a shouting match or point scoring tit for tat tirade, nobody is really listening and thus nothing is solved. In such scenarios, effective communiction becomes impossible. Where someone insists on continuing a conversation which you feel is unnecessary or where you are starting to become overwhelming angry, forewarn the other person that you will need to take a time out and why, and when the time out will end.

Certain strategies are a no-no when it comes to arguing effectively. Here are some things to avoid.


DON’T interrupt - hear the other person out. One reason people interrupt is that they hear something they vehemently disagree with and want to counter it there and then. They may fear they will forget, or not be allowed to address, the point later on. If you find this happens to you alot you might want to have a pen and paper handy and jot down key words to refresh your memory about the things you want to raise when it is your turn to speak. It will take just a second to note down a couple of key words to refresh your memory. Once you have noted down your point, you must then return your full attention to listening. This might seem awkward, but you can explain to your “opponent” at the outset that you are doing it so that you won’t do them the disservice of interrupting them.

DON’T distract yourself when the other person is talking by constantly being on the defensive and planning what you are going to say next. When you do this you are not completely listening. When you feel yourself getting frustrated at what the other person is saying, take several slow deep breaths to calm yourself, and resolve to listen attentively. At the end of the other person’s discourse, take a moment to compose yourself, gathering your thoughts before you respond.

DON’T resort to abusive, childish name calling, swearing, shouting, both speaking at once etc. If the other person does this, ask them to stop. If they persist, politely but firmly end the conversation forthwith and have a time limited cooling off period. Do not sink to their level – two wrongs do not make a right.

DON’T engage in tit for tat cycles of arguing merely seeking to score points. Rise above this temptation and be the bigger person.

DON’T insist on always having the last word. Having the last word does not denote superiority or that you are right.

DON’T absently say “always” and “never” as it’s seldom absolutely true and gives an impression of unfairness.

DON’T use personal attacks – being assertive and respectful is key

DON’T aim to win every argument. Life is just too short. Again, be the bigger person and choose to avoid/lose a few battles here and there.

DON’T forget to acknowledge the other person’s good points and try to have a balanced view of things overall, aiming for a win-win outcome.

Be Honest, Respectful and Open

Be open to recoginsing, acknowledging and admitting your own mistakes. This is hard but, in the long term, you will likely feel much better for doing this. In addition, it sets a good example for the other person to reflect on and it may have a positive influence over your future dealings with them.

In an ideal world, everyone would own up to their shortcomings, but there are many who simply refuse to admit defeat and/or say sorry. Allow the other person to save face whenever possible and do not doggedly insist on an apology and admission of wrongdoing. When necessary, you can respectfully express that you feel you are owed an apology, but don't demand it. If they do decide to apologise, you want it to be a genuine heartfelt apology rather than just empty words.

Remember a win/win conclusion is what to aim for. Recognise when to stop arguing/discussing the matter and give genuine consideration when an olive branch is given, even if it falls somewhat short of an apology or admission of guilt as you see things.

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