We all argue. There are two types of arguments, ones that are productive and ones that are destructive. You’ve probably experienced both kinds in your
life, but you may not have understood why some arguments have resolved a situation effectively, and some have left you frustrated and without a resolution. The key is productive arguing. When you know how to argue productively, your relationships are more likely to thrive than to die. You can avoid destructive arguing when you remember one simple rule: no Verbal Graffiti.
You sabotage your relationships and engage in destructive arguing when you resort to Verbal Graffiti. I’m not referring to “like,” “you know,” “right?” or similar words that sometimes litter our conversations. Those are accidental, space-filling sounds. Nor do I mean the habitual use of a word or phrase that causes it to lose meaning, such as “at the end of the day,” “the truth of the matter,” or, “if you ask me.”
I’m talking about spraying profanity, insults and accusations over the thing you value – the relationship that you have, when what you really want to do is have a heart-to-heart conversation about whatever you’re feeling and what it is you need to feel better.
What’s a Productive Argument?
When the two of you are affected by a situation that can be improved, you have the foundation for a productive argument. The next step is to engage in an open and calm conversation, with each of you listening to the other, and actively searching for a bit of common ground – a compromise, that gives each of you what you need. It may not require both of you to make a change or to make an equal amount of change.
For instance, if your snoring can cause hearing loss and you hate sleeping alone, the two of you might agree that you will immediately seek medical treatment and that you will sleep in the guest room until a remedy is found. You tolerate sleeping alone so that your partner can enjoy restorative sleep.
On the other hand, if the argument is that you chronically arrive late to pick up the kids for your weekend with them, perhaps the pick-up time can be changed, your former spouse can take on the responsibility of delivering the children to you, or you change to your schedule or habits so that you reliably arrive on time.
4 Common Forms of Verbal Graffiti
A productive argument becomes destructive when one or both of you engage in Verbal Graffiti. Verbal Graffiti inflames, and it deflects or redirects attention from the topic. Like spray paint, it obscures your understanding of the problem and does nothing to fix it.
I first wrote about Verbal Graffiti a few weeks ago and how it has impeded conversations about Confederate monuments. I’ll have more to say about that specific example in Thursday’s blog post.
There are four common forms of Verbal Graffiti, and you may have experienced these in your arguments.
- Talking over each other. If it isn’t already obvious in your conversation, there’s zero pretext left that either of you is listening to the other when you’re both talking at the same time.
- Going Off-Topic. Introducing other problems or past situations instead of staying focused on the single topic is also Verbal Graffiti.
- Verbal Abuse. Use of inflammatory language, such as swearing or name-calling is a form of bullying and is designed to intimidate. Nothing shouts your immaturity and inability to defend your position louder than when you resort to verbal abuse.
- Manipulation. This includes false tears, shouting, ill-logical arguments, and distorted claims.
Whatever the form of Verbal Graffiti, the outcome is the same. It obscures the real issue that you wanted to discuss, and draws your attention to the new image that has been painted over the original.
Every relationship will erupt in argument from time to time. If you want to keep your arguments productive, start by becoming aware of your own use of Verbal Graffiti and resolve to eliminate it from your conversations. Once you’re aware of your own use of it, you can then draw attention to the other person’s use of it to litter and obscure a situation.
“If we do not practice what we say
we believe, do we really believe it?”
Live Honest, Open, and True
Do you resort to Verbal Graffiti instead of using your rational and intelligent self to express your feelings and to ask for what you need? Next time you hear your words start to spray over the real issue, what will you do to keep the conversation clean of Verbal Graffiti?
Would you share this post?
Tweet: Remember this Simple Rule in an Argument, a blog post on Life is HOT blog
What other examples of Verbal Graffiti have you experienced? Stop by our Life is HOT blog Facebook Group and leave a comment or tweet me @LifeIsHOTBlog with the hash tag #LifeIsHOT!