We Need to Argue! Part I
I know. That blog post title sounds crazy. But the truth is we do, seriously, need to argue.
Argument gets a bad, bad rap these days. We’ve come to treat personal conflict as selfish, dangerous and just plain bad manners. You can see it at work. Bosses, employees and C-Suite people flinch away from the difficult conversations, smooth over the momentary angry or reactive statement and shame peers who “lose their cool” or “can’t keep it civil”. Disagreement is avoided and differing perspectives are shut down.
You see it in personal relationships – romantic or friendship. Rather than tackle issues or problems that keep trying to surface people veer off and change the subject. They also go quiet, get sullen and frustrated, tell their friends and family about what’s making them angry, but DON’T tell the person who they really need to talk with – the other person in the relationship.
You even see it in our public discourse these days. We can’t argue! We can yell at each other, call each other terrible names, and huddle with the people that we’re confident agree with us, but we won’t risk really engaging with the people that disagree with us. We make conflict and disagreement a bad thing, and we’ve made the people that disagree with us the enemy.
But there are terrible risks to not arguing, and that’s the focus of today’s blog post.
The Risks of Not Doing Conflict When its Needed
One huge problem with the refusal to wade into the difficult conversation is what happens to communication. When we stop or flinch away from issues or topics that make us uncomfortable (or even scare us) then we narrow the range of things we CAN talk about in a relationship – work, personal, whatever.
You see it in couples all the time. One huge example is talking about money issues. Various studies have said that money is one of the biggest reasons people get divorced. But it isn’t so much money as a thing that gets in the way as it is that the people in the relationship can’t talk about money issues, directly and productively!
Sure, people have very different views on how to handle and manage money. Sure, money is a scary topic to some people. And yes, it isn’t necessarily easy or comfortable to talk about money when these things are getting in the way. But that’s precisely the point: if we DON’T develop some ability at wrestling with each other – doing skillful and safe conflict – then we don’t have a prayer of dealing with our money issues and fears effectively
(The other topic that gets couples in trouble is sex, and it’s for the exact same reason.)
Another risk of not doing conflict is how much the problems we’ve avoiding fighting about fester and grow – in our thinking and in the relationship. Let’s stay with the money issue. One member of the couple is crazed because they’re worried about long-term savings. The other person is deeply annoyed because all spending seems to be viewed as bad unless it’s going into savings.
They’re NOT talking to each other, but they ARE 1) muttering to themselves about how selfish and frustrating the other person is and 2) too often they’re telling anyone who will listen how much this money thing is getting in the way of the relationship! And of course every time they retell their money story about the other person (to themselves or the other people they are pouring their frustration out to) they just feed the story of worry and stress they’re building about this issue.
Of course what they have to do is confront the issue with each other. Nobody reading this blog has failed to experience the moment when we finally talk to the person we’re angry/frustrated/mad with, only to discover that, with a little discussion and thinking, the problem suddenly seems much smaller and serious than it did before you started.
I’m not saying that the discussion can’t or won’t get heated. It often does, especially when we’ve been avoiding it for a long while. I’m not saying it doesn’t feel risky or even dangerous, especially if we have less-than-useful histories with conflict in our personal experience. I AM saying that, with some good skills and practice, we can stop the unnecessary stress, misunderstanding and worry that plagues people who will not practice healthy conflict.
The third risk I’ll call out in this post is the way we can damage the relationships we won’t tussle with, over time. Anger, resentment, passive-aggressive exchanges, the erosion of respect and friendship, the unnecessary and destructive fights that inevitably flare up – all of these come, sooner or later, when we can’t argue effectively.
We Can Skip the Bad Stuff – If We’ll Deliberately Do Smart Conflict
Conflict will come, sooner or later, in any relationship of any depth or importance, at work or in our personal life. We’re humans! We see things differently, act differently, rate different things as important, and that makes conflict inevitable. We can either avoid it religiously (and experience all the tedious outcomes described above) or we can learn to do conflict with some skill, grace and even success.
Helpful Suggestion #1: where are we avoiding conflict like the plague in our lives? Pick just one place, one relationship, one situation. What’s the bottom-line issue that’s making you crazy?
Helpful Suggestion #2: how much have you really, thoughtfully, non-defensively listened to the person that’s making you crazy in the above situation? And how much have you insisted that they listen to YOU? What might happen if you could really sit, seriously listen and then talk it out?
Next up – all the BENEFITS of learning to do conflict with skill and grace.
Listen to the Anchor Podcast of this blog post HERE!