Since my teenage years I’ve found myself acting as a mediator between family members, friends, business associates, and occasionally even casual acquaintances. How I came to this role stems from when I first used the word “compromise” while trying to negotiate with my dad about growing my hair longer at around the age of 15. I could see his previously harsh opposition to the idea turn into a wry sort of amusement as he asked me what I had in mind. In that instant I discovered that all things in the world are not set in stone. It was a groundbreaking moment in my life!
From that time forward I’ve called upon my mediator talents to help myself and others in a wide variety of circumstances. When people disagree they are usually able to remain civil in tone and action, but there have been times when I was out with friends and a conversation between them suddenly escalated to a full-on argument right in front of me. Though it might be hard to diffuse a situation like this, I’ve developed a few tips or guidelines that may prove valuable whenever you find yourself in need of administering a chill pill during a sticky situation. Here’s a little wisdom you might consider.
I think we all know what it feels like when calmness has left the building! An emotional trigger gets pulled and many times an eruption of some sort usually follows. In the midst of an argument neither side wants to back down especially since they “know” the other side is patently wrong! In fact, one side might clearly be in the wrong or blatantly seeking to harm the other. Usually this is not the case however. Most often, there’s been just one little detail about something that has put them over their “I can handle this” quota. Just because someone has unleashed their internal beast, doesn’t mean that you have to!
Take A Short Time Out
Many times a good place to start is to separate yourself (or them) from the situation for a few minutes so the warring parties can regroup. It’s a good idea to just say something like, “You know, I need a few minutes before we get too heavily into this.” Then use this time to regain your composure and allow your reasoning ability to return. Arguments are highly stressful especially when all your buttons have just been pushed.
We tend to want to just yell, then try to logically make our point, and if it’s not accepted we want to just yell again and force the issue to our favor! So, take a few moments to cool off and get clear.
Listen With Focus
When it’s time to re-engage take a deep breath and LISTEN to the other side. Really listen, and maybe empathize a little. They want you to hear what they’ve got to say just as badly as you’re wanting them to hear your side of things.
Lots of arguments happen because both sides never took the time to listen in the first place. You might actually hear something you didn’t know. Listening is not the same as agreeing but it will certainly allow progress to be made.
Repeat Their Position Back To Them
Do this in your own words and not in a patronizing or belittling way. You’re essentially saying something like, “If I’m understanding you right, you’re saying this…” When you take this approach you’re making sure that you both are understanding the other person’s side of things. This often takes the bite out of an argument because it eliminates each one talking over the other person’s side. It’s also a measure of honesty. Ask them to do the same for you until you both know that you’re repeating each others position the right way.
Identify What You Are In Agreement On
Most of the time, the simple act of listening to each others side and then knowing where you’re in agreement will take all the actual anger out of an argument and allow clearer heads to prevail. If you think about it, most arguments are started over something that has been previously agreed upon. Things like… a set procedure at work, curfew times, homework, or paying a bill.
Let’s look into that just a little closer. If the argument is about a procedural thing, like a detail of your job at work, or hanging pictures in the living room, or anything that has to do with doing a certain thing at a certain time, you might consider whether a minor change in the steps or the timing of it can be adjusted. If the argument is about religion or politics, you might have to agree to disagree. Still, following a few of these steps should take the harshness out of the argument and allow that the other person’s opinions and viewpoints don’t have to match your own.
Negotiate And Compromise When It Makes Sense
You really want to consider your options here. Sometimes you might need to correct an error or change your mind about something, like the timing thing we talked about. Your argument shouldn’t be based upon you winning at all costs. If it’s not a big deal, don’t turn it into one because as surely as you do, you’ll only fan the fire and make it more severe. When you successfully negotiate or compromise you must remember that in doing so it will make things better for both sides. This is not a time to be snarky, condescending, or overly rigid. The mark of a good negotiator or in making a compromise ultimately reflects well on both parties as it does much more than simply restoring normalcy.
If It Needs Time, Give It Some Time
You might get some new information that requires a little thought on your part. Remember, not all things can be fixed in a single conversation. A good decision is to plan a way to resolve it. You may need to get creative, or do something you’ve been putting off for quite some time. Depending on the severity of the argument, you might need to get a third party involved. You might need couples therapy, or anger management. The overriding factor should always be to act on what’s fair and to do it in a reasonable and timely manner.
With my friends, I’ve had to remind them that they’re still friends and even though something might come up from time to time, we can address the issues and move on while friendships remain intact. Sometimes things happen that put us on edge. Most of the time the people around us might not be aware of what the underlying issue is in the first place. It’s usually the small details of something that pushes a person over their limit.
Once you start using these little tips in your relationships, you’ll begin to realize that there’s almost nothing you can’t take on. And you’ll do it with more consideration and integrity. You’ll be happier and you’ll help the arguing parties to be happier. One thing I’m sure you’ll notice for sure. As soon as you know what to do in these circumstances, you’ll get plenty of practice with your new found skills!