I got in an argument with some housemates recently, and it got me thinking about how I win arguments and solve conflicts. It turns out, the way to win an argument is to be on the same side as the person you’re arguing with.
I first read about this in a book called Verbal Judo. I don’t remember much else about the book, but it seemed to be basically instructing in empathy. The writer of the book used to be a police officer and he got pretty proud of himself when he provoked all sorts of people into making mistakes and going to jail. Fortunately he got in a lot of trouble for this behavior, so he looked for other ways to win.
What do they want?
The fact is, most of us really all want the same things, but we interpret these things differently. I want to be safe, to have food and water, to have air, to have friends and family. I want to lead an interesting life and do things I love. It turns out that everyone wants these things, but we pursue them in different ways.
When I talked to my housemates about the arguments we had, I found the best start was to wait a couple of days. Talking in the heat of the moment is rarely wise. I then talked with one of my housemates about the argument. First, I talked about what I wanted and needed from the situation to resolve it. This didn’t get me very far because it didn’t take him into account. It was a calm discussion but not very fruitful.
How to win
Feeling a lot of anxiety about things, I wound up taking a nap. This was good for me and calmed me down. I then remembered how to win arguments as I was waking up. I went to my housemate and asked him what he needed. I said I wanted to make an agreement with him to keep things running more smoothly in the future. I asked him to give me a complete list of his concerns. He did that, and I addressed them all. There was one point that it was hard for us to agree on, but everything else worked perfectly once I listened and focused on what he wanted and needed from me. As for that one thing, We agreed happily that we’d both think about it, and I have complete faith that we will come up with something mutually beneficial.
I know how to win arguments. Being empathetic is not a new skill for me. But sometimes we need to be reminded of what we already know. It’s all part of being human. I am not ashamed to continue to be a student, even, sometimes, of the same things.