Effective Communication: How To Get Your Point Across During An Argument


Conflict is a normal part of relationships. At some point, even individuals in the healthiest relationships are bound to clash. While the natural instinct may be to protect yourself by lashing out, especially if you are feeling hurt, it is important to remember that this isn’t the best approach. When you lash out, the things you say will be remembered long after the argument is over. Beyond that, the reason why you were hurt in the first place may not clearly be communicated to your partner.

There’s a difference between winning an argument and being effective in communicating your point. For example, a person may consider “winning,” ending the argument and walking away so that he or she no longer has to continue the discussion and let his or her guard down. To another person, “winning” may be leaving his or her partner with an emotional scar as a result of feeling hurt and wanting to cause pain to another. An example of this may be calling someone a slob or using another derogatory adjective. Even if this seems gratifying in the short-term, it can lead to long-term problems in the relationship. In addition, you aren’t sharing the real reason why you were hurt or angry in the first place.

An effective way to share your needs during a disagreement is by using “I” language. “I” language relates a situation back to you and your feelings, which enables you to fully express how you are being affected. In addition, “I” language focuses on the behavior rather than on the person. Replacing “Why did you do that?” which may be accompanied by an eye roll, with “When you make plans without me, I feel left out” is much more effective. By doing this, you are able to explain to the individual you are arguing with why you are upset, angry, etc. This allows for much more effective and clear communication.

Ellie Lisitsa of The Gottman Institute notes that the antidote to criticism, is a soft or gentle startup, which allows you to describe your needs rather than calling out your partner. This soft startup typically employs “I” statements (Lisitsa, 2013).

So, remember that the next time you wind up at an impasse with your partner, take a moment to think about the message you want to send and how to best share it.

Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, is a psychology professor, relationship researcher and relationship coach. Learn more about Marisa at www.marisatcohen.com.

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