How to make your point without alienating, angering or humiliating your audience
By Faith Wood
CALGARY – BUSINESS – It’s that time of year when a lot of us take holidays with family and friends. As much as we enjoy getting together, conversations can be a bit prickly and leave loved ones feeling less supported than we might want.
So we need some strategies for reducing potential misunderstandings when confronted with the argumentative communicator.
What’s an argumentative communicator?
If you enjoy playing devil’s advocate, if you constantly offer an opposing opinion even if it’s not asked for, if you use the word ‘but’ often in conversation with others, you just might be perceived as argumentative.
When you continually refute the comments of others, you run the risk of making them feel wrong, stupid or uninformed. That’s not exactly the best strategy for building strong relationships.
Men and women typically view communication differently. When it comes to aggressive communications styles, men will say, “we had a debate” or “an intense conversation,” and women will believe that it was “a fight” or “an argument.”
Obviously, perceptions are tricky things to work around.
One person may believe they’re simply debating or discussing a subject intellectually with no intent to harm. The other person may perceive the same conversation as intending to lower their reputation or hurt them. As a result, they feel a need to defend themselves rather than just their point of view.
This doesn’t mean you need to stop disagreeing or stop intellectually pursuing your point of view. It just means that it’s important to make sure those we have discussions with don’t feel personally attacked.
There’s an additional problem. We often take possession of our ideas as if they were our identity. If people’s ideas and verbalized thoughts are experienced at the level of one’s identity, then all debate will be perceived as fighting or arguing. Therefore, when this pattern of communication erupts, it’s important to distinguish opinion from the person.
When you’re discussing something with someone and they perceive you as argumentative, consider asking the person, “How can I present counterexamples and other points of view in a way that doesn’t offend you or hurt your feelings?”
If you hear people regularly say things like, “You just love to argue, don’t you?” or “Why do you always argue with me?” or “I don’t want to fight with you,” then regardless of whether you believe you’re fighting or not, you need to reconsider your approach to communication. You need to be perceived as less abrasive. Here are some tips to help you soften your style:
- Ask more questions.
- Be aware that not everyone perceives discussion, debate, arguing and fighting in the same way. Find out what those important to you believe about each of these things.
- Ask the important people in your life specifically how you can communicate with them to help them know you don’t want to argue, but rather discuss.
- Always think of your intention. Is your intention gentle? Speak more quietly. People associate quieter tones with gentler intentions.
- Show people you care in ways other than verbally, so they know you care when you do argue.
- If you find yourself getting into a heated discussion, ask the other person if they feel you’re arguing or discussing. Ask what the difference would be for them.
- Ask your friend/associate/partner how you can communicate without giving the appearance of arguing.
- Be certain that you make clear your intention, so it’s not misunderstood.
Just applying one or two of these tips will help you communicate more efficiently, effectively and gently.
Columnist Faith Woodis a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.
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