Ah yes, the holidays, so much to love. Christmas lights, carolers, hot cocoa, mistletoe hung where you can see, gifts to wrap, sitting in front of a crackling fire while stockings hang from the mantel filled with melting candies… and then there are things you look forward to but also kind of dread. Like spending time with family for the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, and cherish the quality time spent with them, but I sometimes get a little tired playing peacemaker when drama strikes. I’ll be seeing most of my immediate family this Christmas, with all our different ways of dealing with conflict and varying opinions on various issues, from which movie we should watch to whether there should be whole wheat, white, or almond flour in the sticky buns. Not to mention the big stuff like politics, religion, and morals.
Having 16 siblings including the 4 siblings in law opens up room for more variety in opinions than the average sized family. This post is about dealing with conflict in preparation for the holidays and trying to avoid all the blood (Let’s hope none of that), sweat, tears, screaming, accusing, and fighting that sometimes goes hand in hand with family gatherings…
The way we choose to make our opinion known is usually a more important issue than what we are actually arguing about. My reasoning for this statement is this; You can have all the ‘right’ opinions and know all the infinite truths of the world, but your presenting technique can destroy all chances of changing someone’s mind. What good is this knowledge if you are not respected and your opinion is mistrusted?
I was chatting with one of my sisters and her husband a few days ago and telling them about the focus of my next blog post ‘The Art of arguing’. “Speaking about touchy subjects that can lead to arguments” She then broke into a controversial topic with me that we disagreed on. We both stated our opinions and discussed it for awhile before ending something like “I’m just letting you know that’s the way I view it. “Yeah and I’m just letting you know this is the way I view it….” “Okay great.” “Great.” It was obvious that no one was about to change their mind in that discussion. Both of our views had been calculated over time using our own unique information, experience and current surroundings. Neither one of us had to be right. It wasn’t worth changing her mind because from her points of experience her view made sense for her. Me changing her mind wouldn’t change her circumstances that much for the better, and neither would her changing my views change my life for the better. So there was no need for anyone to change their minds just then. And pushing the topic when it doesn’t hold enough value destroys your credibility.
In my preteen years, when everyone was still living in Pennsylvania, I had a pretty unhealthy, though pretty normal default process to deal with conflict in my crazy family. First, I’d discover the point of grievance and point it out. It would start quiet enough, but then soon rolled into a heated argument in which I tried to yell over the voice of my family member and use points of interest that would drive my point and catch their attention. This is a pretty common form of arguing which usually leads to one or both of the participants feeling hurt, and most of the time the arguing point is lost and it turns into a battle of emotions.
It was around this time that I discovered angrily yelling did no good in a conversation. I noticed when someone was yelling at me, I would either ignore them, or try to yell louder than their yell to actually get their attention. Wait, so both of us are trying to prove our point which we are super passionate about but nobody is actually listening to the other? Oh. Umm… Well. This sucks.
So I stopped yelling. Just like that, I suddenly became one of the composed ones in those conversations. Able to mediate between two angry beasts, and my opinions more respected. Because I ‘never yell’ the blue moon where I actually do yell (let’s say an average of once or twice a year) gives more credibility to my arguing. ‘Wait. WHATTT? She’s really angry? She’s never angry! This must actually be super important.’ My yelling voice is now more like a wake up call “Hey, there’s a train about to hit you in the face if you don’t freak’n get off the train tracks!” I reserve it for when many long conversations and time has passed, and they still haven’t changed something in their life that is unhealthy to them or people around them, never for anything minor.
I have siblings I’m close to and spend a lot of time with who I haven’t yelled at since my pre-teen years. Sure, we have varying opinions, but what’s the point of fighting about it if it doesn’t change anything? I have found logical, well thought-out, respectful conversations can change an opinion faster (and with less damages) than a heated argument can. Think risk vs reward. Is them thinking my way on the topic going to better their life, my life or others enough that it’s worth the sweat and tears in the process? Yelling over which movie we’re going to watch, or which type of flour goes in the sticky buns? Not worth the stress, time, and damages. Issues with politics, religion and morals? Usually still not worth yelling, not saying those couldn’t be huge deals but yelling isn’t going to change someone’s mind. Logic, respect, and objectivity are usually the best way to hash out the deep stuff.
Arguing for the sake of arguing is pointless. There must be a worthwhile outcome. If you want to have any kind of hope that you can change someone’s mind or resolve conflict you must make a real effort to understand the other person’s point of view. Understanding it from your perspective is oftentimes completely different than how they see it. Try to take it out of your perspective as much as possible. Why? Because that is what you need from the other person. To try to change someone’s mind, you’re hoping they’ll give your view the time of day. If you want that but aren’t giving the same courtesy to THEIR view you’re being a hypocrite. And nobody wants to debate with a high and mighty hypocrite -or a lowly hypocrite- or any hypocrite really. Trust me on this, I’ve been on both sides of that and it goes nowhere.
So many heated arguments could be avoided if people discussed them calmly and tried to understand why the other person is thinking the way they are. Usually I find that people’s opinions are all pretty reasonable when you get to the core of why they actually think it, and all the different factors that feed that opinion for them. Be willing to admit you’re wrong. If other people can have ‘absurd’ beliefs and be totally ‘unreasonable’ opinions than chances are, you are those very things sometimes to other people and don’t even realize it. I’ve had some rather absurd viewpoints in my life, but at the time, no amount of harsh argument or belittling would have got me to change my mind. And you know what? I’m really grateful for the people who have proved me wrong in a calm discussion, because in doing so, they have got me that much closer to the truth.
Don’t just pick your battles, but also pick HOW you battle. Just because I’m writing a post on the art of arguing doesn’t mean I’ve learned everything I need to know, I slip up sometimes, after all, no one’s perfect. I have however, got less and less stressed about conflict, more and more confident in logical debates, and I can respect someone else’s opinion and see the merit in it while still seeing the valid-ness of my own view.
That, my friends, is why I rarely yell, and why I value logistical conversations over emotional, headache-causing arguments.