Arguments occur more frequently than we may like to admit. Who here loves a good argument? Well, for me—not really, especially with loved ones. During arguments, we may think and feel like we are a failure. And, then, we find ourselves defending our actions, our beliefs, our intent; or, we may become critical about what the other person is saying.
Becoming defensive during arguments is natural for us as people. We may even become defensive without even knowing that is what we are doing. When we become defensive during an argument, it becomes difficult for the conversation to go anywhere productive, and difficult for the conversation to stay on topic.
One thing that can be helpful during arguments is following conflict resolution steps, like the ones detailed in One Change’s Workbook. Following those steps can help keep arguments on track, as well as, both parties identifying a compromise. Practicing conflict resolution steps can be beneficial, but is not a guarantee that an argument/conflict will always go smoothly or resolve quickly.
I view conflict resolution steps as another tool, not just the tool, we can use during arguments. Sometimes we need to use multiple tools to help us remain grounded and work productively forward during arguments. Another tool that can be helpful is tuning into ourselves. Tuning into ourselves during arguments can help us keep the defensive gates down and work through the argument; as opposed to, trying to avoid the argument or lash out.
The first step I like to do when I am wanting to tune into myself during an argument is to ask myself one of either two questions: ‘Hmmm, what am I experiencing right now?’ Or, ‘Hmmm, how do I know I am breathing?’ These questions stem from Dr. Jud’s recent book, opens in a new windowUnwinding Anxiety. In his book, Dr. Jud discusses the great power of using curiosity in our daily life, and a helpful way to initiate curiosity is to say ‘Hmmm.’ Saying ‘Hmmm’ out loud works great, but we are not always in an environment we can do that. So, saying it to ourselves works also.
When I ask myself one those questions, sometimes both, I either receive insight that is helpful to the argument, or, it helps me stay grounded so I can actively listen without becoming defensive. Sometimes a question I get asked is how do you continue to listen to the other person when you are asking yourself to focus in on your own experience? My usual response is trust. We are capable of so many cool things and this is one of them.
I find I listen better when I also tune into myself during an argument. I may chose to focus on my breathing, or focus on sensations I am feeling in my body. For example, when I acknowledge my stomach feels like it is in knots (sensation), I acknowledge to my body that I know we are feeling anxious.
Acknowledging, or accepting, how we are feeling with curiosity, instead of self-judgement, can help keep us engaged in the argument rather than defensive. To me that is a big deal. If you try this out and find it distracting from the argument that is okay. Take a timeout, go tune in to yourself somewhere quiet without distractions, and return back to the conflict when both parties are ready.
Okay, let’s break this down. Here is a framework we can use:
Conflict: maybe it’s your husband or wife or significant other and they are upset with you; or, it is your boss yelling at you because you made a mistake at work and, even better, your boss is yelling at you in front of your colleagues.
Step One: Tune into yourself right at the beginning of the argument by asking yourself either of the following questions: ‘Hmmm, what am I experiencing right now?’; or, ‘Hmmm, how do I know I am breathing right now?’ If we ask ourselves the second question, (Hmmm, how do I know I am breathing right now?), take note of what you notice regarding your breathing. Maybe you are breathing in and out quickly, breathing with your chest versus your abdomen, nostrils feel flared open, breathing through mouth, or maybe I am holding my breath. After gathering information, kindly remind yourself to start breathing in and out through your nose calmly. Pay attention to how the breath feels when you breath in through your nose, and how it feels when you breath out your nose. There is usually a spot in your nose where you feel your breath more so than anywhere else. Focus your attention on that spot while breathing and, simultaneously, listen to what the other party is expressing.
Step Two: From there, take note to yourself on what you notice. If asking the first question, maybe you notice you are feeling closed in, face feels hot, feel tense in stomach, sweaty, heart racing. All of this equals, ‘I’m having a lot of big feelings right now.’
Step Three: So, what can we do with this overwhelming intrapersonal experience? Be kind to ourselves. I can tell myself ‘I am okay. Breath. What is important right now is that I listen intently to what the other party is expressing.’ From here, I really like asking myself the following question: ‘What is the most generous interpretation I can have in this moment regarding my boss, wife, husband, significant other?’ (This comes from Dr. Becky’s book, opens in a new windowGood Inside.) When I ask myself this question I am consistently surprised on what I recognize and feel slightly calmer.
Step Four: Respond back to the other party from the grounded place you are now.
Step Five: after the argument, find a way to decompress. Here is a link to a opens in a new window Living Kindness meditation by Dr. Jud that I find particularly helpful after an argument. I like listening to this after an argument because it starts off with a good opportunity to tune back into how we were likely feeling at the beginning of the argument, and then shows us how powerful our mind can be in influencing how we feel when we look at something differently.
Following these steps does not mean we are not going to feel anxious, angry, or embarrassed during or after an argument. I view these kinds of mindful steps as tools to helping me stay grounded during arguments. I am going to feel how I feel during arguments (that is my truth), however, using these tools helps me respond during arguments in a way that will help with productivity, and in a way I know I can look back on and feel good with myself because of how I responded.
Judson, B. (2021). opens in a new windowUnwinding Anxiety: New science shows how to break the cycles of worry and fear and to heal your mind. New York: Penguin.
Kennedy, B. (2022). opens in a new windowGood Inside: A guide to becoming the parent you want to be. New York: HarperCollins.
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