Many people view arguing as a negative experience. Let’s be honest; who really likes to argue? In the Oxford dictionary, “arguing” is “to speak angrily to somebody because you disagree with them.” This definition aligns with many individuals’ perceptions of arguing, a heated exchange between people. However, the definition provided by Merriam-Webster may be more appropriate, “to give a reason for or against something.” This definition can lead to a crazy thought, we can argue without speaking angrily. We can speak about how our opinions are different from others without conversations escalating. As leaders, we set the tone for communication in the workplace. Leaders are bound to find themselves in disagreements or mediating an argument between employees. It is for this reason leaders should know how to argue better.
Arguing Well vs. Arguing to Win
Before discussing some practical steps, we need to highlight that our approach to conflict can significantly affect the results we get. Too often, people get sucked into a competition mindset when arguing- there is a winner and a loser, but this approach to conflict rarely serves us as a team. When we argue to win, we’re more likely to fall victim to information and selection bias. We tend to become more adversarial in our communication, and subsequently, we shouldn’t be surprised when we activate the fight, flight, or freeze response within others. Before we know it, our team is lost in a wave of emotions. Some team members are fighting for their professional lives, some ducking for cover, and others are stuck in a frozen daze while teammates banter. Don’t let this be you and your team! Check your motives for arguing and lean into practices to help everyone argue better. Here are some practical steps to help you do just that.
Practical Steps to Argue Better
- Embrace the idea of being wrong. We cannot be right all the time; sometimes, there is a better way than our own. Embracing the idea of being wrong is the willingness to be held accountable, listening to approaches that differ from our own, and practicing humility. Two practical ways this step is demonstrated are by acknowledging with the team when we are in the wrong and listening to hear/clarify perspectives rather than defending our own.
- Set the stage. When and where we argue is just as important as how we argue. Conversations regarding disagreements must be held at an appropriate time and place. Some conversations should be held privately, so we must discern when a discussion warrants privacy. In some moments, there may be disagreements between people, where tempers start to flare. It may be best to schedule a meeting to continue the conversation at a different time when emotions have deescalated. This is not about avoiding arguments but creating a space for optimal discussion.
- The Golden Rule. Some practices lead to an unproductive argument: interrupting, yelling, getting off-topic, and the list goes on. We must be respectful in arguments and treat others as we would like to be treated. We can all agree that being interrupted, experiencing someone raising their voice, and having a scattered conversation is not our preference. Practicing and encouraging empathy can be an effective way to meet staff’s communication needs and enhance understanding of others’ perspectives.
Reflection: How can you set a standard for arguing better within your organization?