Arguments and disagreements are a part of life, but, hopefully, you're usually able to peacefully come to an agreement or compromise. Sometimes, however, it appears as though there's no way that you'll ever be able to reach an agreement, regardless of if you're arguing with a partner, a family member, a friend, or a colleague, so it can be important to know some of the ways to settle an argument when it feels like you'll never agree. That way, when it seems like you're both set in your ways (or even moving farther apart), there's still a possible path out of the argument and toward some sort of agreement — or, at least, a ceasefire.
Almost assuredly, you don't want your argument to ruin the relationship you have with the other person, but if the two of you can't fight fairly, compromise, come to an agreement, or at least settle things civilly, it could endure a lot of damage. Knowing how to work through a disagreement is a useful skill to possess and incorporating tried and true tips from conflict management experts and psychologists can help you refine your techniques, make it through arguments more effectively, with less collateral damage, and help you both feel as though things are — finally — settled.
1. Take Responsibility For What You Did
Chances are, if you're going to settle this argument, you're going to have to be at least willing to take responsibility for your part in causing it. Psychologist Dr. Laura Louis, Ph.D., tells Romper via email that when you acknowledge that you played a role and are willing to hold yourself accountable for what you did, they'll be less defensive and more willing to work toward a solution.
2. Put Yourself In The Other Person's Shoes
Your parents or teachers probably told you to do this once or twice when you were younger, but as it turns out, that's because it really can help. "Putting yourself in the other [person's] shoes and seeing things from their perspective is one of the most effective ways to diffuse arguments and instead create an understanding conversation," Laura Ellis, the founder of Whimsy Creative, tells Romper by email. Think about how they might be approaching this argument or what they know and don't know going in and how that could be affecting the way that they're behaving or the things that they're saying.
3. Talk About The Way You Feel
The way you feel matters, maybe even more than you think. "People often get so caught up in thoughts and behaviors that they neglect feelings," Dr. Natalie Feinblatt, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Romper in an email exchange. "Instead of saying, 'You this, you that, I think this, etc.,' say something like 'I feel (blank). How is this making you feel?' Going to the feelings can help people lower their defenses, get more vulnerable and authentic, and understand each other better."
4. Practice Mirroring To Show You Understand
"This seems deceptively simple, but it really can work," Feinblatt says. "After each person speaks, the other has to mirror back what they heard before they get to say their piece. It's amazing how many misunderstandings can come to light when you take this separate step. This way you can clear up those misunderstandings, get to the root of the issue, and hopefully reach an agreement." You might have heard something (or at least understood or interpreted something) differently than the person said or meant to say it. Relaying back what you heard gives them the opportunity to amend what they'd previously said or explain further.
5. Take A Step Back & Put Things In Perspective
"People with high conflict personalities have limited ability to settle arguments," Megan Hunter, the co-founder of the High Conflict Institute and the author of Dating Radar: Why Your Brain Says Yes to "The One" Who Will Make Your Life Hell, tells Romper by email. "They defend, explain, argue, shout, and storm out of the room. It seems like they just can’t manage their emotions or that they just have to win. These exchanges leave you angry, defensive, defeated and in many cases – overreacting, making you look like the difficult one. So what do you do? First you have to get unhooked by stepping back for a few seconds to remind yourself that it’s not about you — it’s about them. Instead of reacting, you can respond with EAR — empathy, attention or respect — to calm their defensive 'on fire' brain."
If you take a beat and think about what's really going on and, again, why they're acting the way that they are, you can shift the perspective from it being about you and you being unable to keep your cool, and hopefully calm some of the defensiveness in the other person, so that the two of you can have an actual conversation.
6. Focus On Where You Agree
More often than not, you don't disagree on absolutely everything. There are places where the two of you do agree, even if you're still in conflict over the general issue. Rather than focusing on the fact that you don't agree generally, make connections and build bridges by pointing out that all is not lost. "For example, if a couple gets into a fight about where to go out to dinner instead of focusing on where to go focus on the fact that you both would like to spend time together," Louis says. "Keep in mind what is most important to you both."
7. If Necessary, Take A Break
Sometimes, the best thing to do is step back and take a break from the arguing. "It's OK to table an issue and agree to not discuss it for a period of time before re-engaging," Feinblatt says. "Getting distance from an issue can help people reach new conclusions and perspectives on the situation, which can help lead to agreements." If you're not getting anywhere, taking a break to cool off and reassess just might be the best thing that you can do to eventually settle the argument.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.