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How To Win An Argument And Lose Your Relationship

How to win an argument


How To Win An Argument And Lose Your Relationship

You may think learning how to win an argument is the be all and end all. Alas as far as your relationship is concerned it could well be the end all!

The trouble with all arguments is that they could go on indefinitely. We need ways to cut them off, to say enough, don’t go there, stop. As soon as we stop an argument, the next question is “why?” Are we admitting they’ve won and we’ve lost, or that we’re too weak to continue?

Certainly not. We want to end it with our pride intact. Therefore we tend to make it their fault for wanting to argue with us. We shame them into silence.

Making it their fault adds insult to injury. Not only are we stopping an interaction that they want to have, we’re accusing them of inappropriate behavior.

That may shut them up in the short run, but it tends to pent them up in the long run. It makes our argument-ending last words dangerously decisive, actually dangerous to us.

For example, if we make them wrong for wanting to express how they feel, they won’t stop how they feel. Instead they’ll keep us in the dark about how they feel.  Do we really want to be kept in the dark like that?

And it’s too decisive. Truth is, we don’t really know why we’re stopping the argument. It could be our hypersensitivity, their insensitivity, or just circumstances. Making it their fault ignores that uncertainty. It’s a sucker punch to say, “Let’s not compete and you lose.”

There are cleaner ways to end arguments, mostly ways that leave undecided why we want to end it and that keep open the possibility of resuming it later.

But here I want to concentrate on the negative. Below is a standard list of negative emotions, each followed by an example of a dangerously decisive last word you can build from them.

Though we’ve all experienced these negative emotions, we often treat them as feelings only degenerates would experience, basically as though having negative emotions is like having cooties.

For example we can say, “I see you’re angry” as if it means “I see you’ve got cooties,” or “You’re making me angry” as though it means “You’re trying to give me cooties.”

The formula for making dangerously decisive argument-enders is:

1. Pick any negative emotion.
2. Accuse your opponent of having it or trying to give it to you.
3. Declare that that’s why you won’t continue arguing with them.

Simple. Decisive. Dangerous.

  1. Abusive: “Why are you being so hurtful?”
  2. Aggressive: “Whoa, what an aggressive thing to say.”
  3. Angry:  “You sound angry.”
  4. Annoyed:  “You sound annoyed.”
  5. Antagonistic: “Why are you so eager to contradict me?”
  6. Anxious: “Jeez, you sound anxious.”
  7. Arrogant: “You must think you have the answers.”
  8. Ashamed: Why would you try to shame me?”
  9. Belligerent: “Why are you being so combative?”
  10. Bitter:  “You sound bitter.”
  11. Bored: “Booooring!”
  12. Broken down: “You’re wearing me out.”
  13. Bullied: “Why do you always have to try to win?”
  14. Chaotic: “Why do you have to stir things up. You’re confusing me.”
  15. Cold: “You’re being so cold with me.”
  16. Commanding: “You aren’t the authority here.”
  17. Competitive: “This isn’t a competition.”
  18. Complaining: “Stop complaining. Get over it.”
  19. Conceited: “I suppose you’re proud of your position on this.”
  20. Condemned: “I feel like you’re condemning me.”
  21. Confused: “You’re argument makes no sense. You’re just confusing me.”
  22. Controlling: “You’re just trying to control me.”
  23. Cowardly: “It’s cowardly of you to bring this up now.”
  24. Critical: “Why are you being critical of me?”
  25. Cruel: “What a cruel thing to say.”
  26. Defeated: “I give up. OK you win. That’s what you want to hear isn’t it?”
  27. Deluded:  “I’m not doing this. You’re just delusional.”
  28. Demanding: “Why are you being so demanding?”
  29. Dependent: “Why do you care so much?”
  30. Depressed: “This makes me feel helpless, like I should just give up.”
  31. Desperate: “This is just your desperate attempt to feel better about yourself.”
  32. Destructive: “You’re destroying our relationship.”
  33. Detached:  “Fine, whatever.”
  34. Disconnected: “This makes me feel like I don’t even know you.”
  35. Discouraged: “I find it so discouraging that you disagree with me.”
  36. Disappointed: “Really? You need to talk about that? That’s disappointing.”
  37. Disgusted: “Apparently you don’t really like me.”
  38. Dominating: “You’re being oppressive.”
  39. Egotistical: “Look it’s not all about you.
  40. Erratic: “I don’t know. You say one thing, then another.”
  41. Frightened: “You’re frightening me.”
  42. Frustrated: “You sound so frustrated with me.”
  43. Hatred: “Why do you hate me.”
  44. Ignorant: “You’re not seeing the whole picture, but never mind.”
  45. Impatient: “What’s your urgency to talk this out?”
  46. Impulsive:  “What’s gotten into you?”
  47. Indifferent: “You seem indifferent to whether I want to discuss this.”
  48. Insecure: “I hear your insecurities talking.”
  49. Insensitive: “You are being deeply insensitive to bring this up.”
  50. Irritated: “You sound irritated with me.”
  51. Judgmental: “Don’t be judgmental.”
  52. Mad: “You sound mad at me.”
  53. Manipulated: “I feel manipulated by your questions.”
  54. Miserable: “Are you trying to make me miserable?”
  55. Moody: “Boy, you sound moody today.”
  56. Moral:  “It is immoral of you to bring that up.”
  57. Negative: “Don’t be so negative.”
  58. Obsessed:  “Why are you so obsessed with that issue.”
  59. Paranoid: “You’re being paranoid. I’m not arguing with you.”
  60. Perfectionist: “Let it be. Nothing’s perfect.”
  61. Punished: “Why are you punishing me with this?”
  62. Rage: “I’m not going to put up with your rage.”
  63. Rejected: “Sounds like you just don’t like me.”
  64. Repressed: “You waited this long to bring it up?”
  65. Resentful: “You sound so resentful.”
  66. Ridiculous: “You’re being ridiculous.”
  67. Righteous: “You must think you’re right.”
  68. Ruthless: “You’ll stop at nothing.”
  69. Sad: “You’re making me sad.”
  70. Sadistic: “You must enjoy torturing me.”
  71. Self-hatred: “You must want me to hate myself.”
  72. Self-obsessed: “Don’t be so sensitive.”
  73. Self-pity: “Oh poor thing, you feel so sorry for yourself.”
  74. Self-sabotaging: “Are you trying to make me not want to be with you?”
  75. Selfish:  “So uncaring of you to bring this up.”
  76. Shamed: “You’re just trying to make me feel ashamed.”
  77. Shut down: “You’re making me shut down to you.”
  78. Stubborn: “You’re just being stubborn.”
  79. Superior:  “I’m not joining your effort to feel superior to me.”
  80. Tantrums: “I refuse to be audience to your tantrums.
  81. Unforgiving: “Why can’t you just let go of it?”
  82. Unhappy: “You’re making me very unhappy.”
  83. Unresponsive:  “You refuse to even hear my point. If you did, you’d agree with me.”
  84. Untrusting: “You’re making me not trust you.”
  85. Vain: “Why do you persist in the useless argument. It’s going no where.”
  86. Vengeance: “You’re just arguing to get even with me.”
  87. Vicious: “Why these vicious attacks?”
  88. Violent: “Arguing is a kind of violence. I’m non-violent. Apparently you are violent.”

Note: Here I’ve treated these argument-enders as ploys, manipulative tricks designed to shame the other person into shutting up. But if they’re always ploys, why wouldn’t we all recognize that and ignore them?

Because they’re not always ploys. The problem with all manipulative tricks is that they’re next-door neighbors to honorable moves.  For example, take number 87: Sometimes we call the opposition’s argument a vicious attack just to shame them into silence, and sometimes it really is a vicious attack. So how can we tell the difference between tricks and truths?

It’s not that easy, but here are two tips:

1. If it’s formulaic: If they always say the equivalent to, “I’m disengaging because you’ve got cooties,” it’s probably a ploy.

2. If they pretend they couldn’t have cooties:  For example, in number 88:  “I’m non-violent” suggests that it’s a “no cooties on me” ploy.

[Jeremy Sherman]

Vital stats: Berkeley, 57, partnered, three children (M34, M28, F24), married once for 17 years. Educationally: Ph.D. in evolutionary theory, masters in public policy Vocationally: MBA professor of strategic foresight, business consultant and communications trainer, academic researcher. Historically: I've taught over 250k college-student/hours in psychology, sociology, rhetoric, philosophy, advertising, economics, history, English, cultural studies, marketing and strategy. I founded a non-profit environmental lobbying organization in DC, worked as a business consultant and public affairs director for large companies, ran a foundation, designed and implemented water projects in Guatemala. For seven years I lived on the world's largest hippie commune, and was an elected elder there at 24. Authority: None. I never refer to myself as an expert in anything, but rather a specialist in those questions that interest me (see below). I write with no authority. I read lots but cite rarely in my articles which should be read as opinion pieces, not declaration of scientifically proven fact. I will not pull rank on readers: My ideas are only worth considering only if they're based on good reasoning. I change my ideas over time. Caveat emptor. They say "don't believe everything you think. I'll go one further: I don't believe everything I write, in that for every argument I make, I aim to be able to express convincingly the counterargument. I try to live by the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Self-expressively: I've written over 600 articles for Psychology Today, coined over 400 psychology neologisms. I write songs and limericks. I play bass and sing in jazz, Latin, funk, and Nigerian groups three nights a week. Intellectually, yet intimately, my middle-age spread spans several life-sized questions. * Most cosmically, how did mattering emerge from matter?, life from non-life? mind from chemistry? economics from physics? information from energy, questions I address as a member of a 16 year research project with UC Berkeley scientist Terrence Deacon. * More practically, though not unrelated, how do and how should we shop among interpretations, deciding what's significant and how to respond to what life deals us? * Also practically and related, what is a butthead other than someone we butt heads with? since in a free society we should define morals negatively--not what you should, but what you shouldn't do. We say "don't be a butthead," but define buttheads subjectively as people we butt heads with. I seek a more objective distinction between what's morally in and out of bounds. * How do and should we balance the ambigamist's tensions and what is the underlying structure of such tensions? For this I use the Serenity Prayer as a template, and think about levels of analysis (going meta). I've written five books, only one published but the rest out soon one way or another. Negotiate with yourself and win: Doubt management for people who can hear themselves think. Purpose: A natural history Doubt: A user's guide; a natural history Mind readers dictionary: Terms for reading between the lines with greater comprehension. Executive UFO: A field guide to unidentified flying objectives in the workplace.

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