The Art of Arguing (or Why I Always Win)

I’m good at a variety of things. Much the same as any person, I assume.

However, there is one activity that I’m really good at: arguing.

I’m not talking about being good in the sense that I can keep up with the wing nuts that enjoy spending their days disagreeing with everyone and being hateful or that I can raise my voice higher than the other person. These are actually characteristics of people who are terrible at arguing.

I’m an exceptional arguer because I can diffuse them. (My friend Sarah has confided that I am in fact a “really good anger diffuser.”)

I’m not exactly sure when I realized that I had this talent imbedded in my ever-expanding skill set. It took some time to fully develop into the fool-proof plan it is now, but the first time I remember taking advantage of it was at the end of seventh grade when some girls (Jessica and Brianne) wrote me a letter declaring their hate for me. Their reason? Everyone else liked me. Is this an argument worth having? How does one explain the reason everyone likes me is because…? (Quick Tip: If you want to be liked, don’t be an unlikeable person. People don’t like bitches that hate others because they’re liked. People don’t really like bitches… period.) Of course, at the age of 13, this was much harder for me to figure out, but I did have the sense to know that it wasn’t worth fighting over. In fact, given those particular circumstances, they had pretty much already declared me the victor. No arguing that.

Lesson #1 in arguing: Pick your battles

This one is obvious to me, but I don’t think some people get it. You don’t have to fight every argument that comes your way. You don’t have to argue about issues that aren’t really going to affect you. Don’t be eristic and don’t allow others to impose their need for some sort of confrontation on you. And honestly, some arguments are truly not worth having. (Case in point, anyone that doesn’t like you for the sake of not liking you.) When I first moved into my boyfriend’s house I put the toilet paper on the holder any which way. I had never thought that it much mattered if I pulled the soft, tissuey paper from over or under the roll. Well, it mattered to Mike, and one day he engaged me in a dispute about the proper way to put the paper you wipe your ass with onto the little wire trestle that holds it. Fact was, it really didn’t matter to me, and yet, I know many of my girlfriends would have began arguing just that (in a lot of other words). So I just put the roll on the way he likes. It’s that simple. If you have to argue that something “doesn’t matter,” then you’re doing it wrong. If it doesn’t matter, then -uh- why are you arguing? (Quick Tip: Any disagreement over a toilet seat, toilet paper, or a toilet bowl in general is not worth having.)

Sometimes people are ridiculous. Sometimes you are ridiculous. The most important rule to arguing well is to know when not to.

Of course, occasionally arguments take a wild turn into Crazyville. I once had the privilege of witnessing this years ago. My boyfriend at the time lived with a couple who were constantly arguing over this and that. My favorite memory of the two lovebirds was the time she grabbed a full coffee pot -eyes the color of insanity- and smashed it against the wall. She started screaming that he had to replace the whole machine, as shards of glass were scattered across the floor and coffee streaked the wall dark brown, because it was his fault that it was broken; he made her do it. I don’t remember a single thing they ever argued about even though they argued every day. He could have been the worst boyfriend in the world, but I don’t remember. The only thing that sticks in my mind from those two is that she was bat-shit insane.

Lesson #2: Don’t go nutso

As soon as you lose your cool– you lose the argument. Done. Raise the white flag. Obviously, like anything that may involve heated opinions or emotions, the possibility that someone might lose it increases. The problem is no one listens to a crazy person.  No one will take you seriously. You could have the most sound argument ever constructed in the history of the Earth, but if you present it in a way that makes you look like the next guest on Springer, the only thing people will hear is that you have no control. You know what that means? The other person holds the control. In turn, making you the loser of the argument -whether you deserve to be or not- because as a whole, rationality almost always beats irrationality. (Quick Tip: Talking this type of a person down is best to do in the same way you would address a 5 year-old.)

Pretty much, if your behavior would scare children– stop. A good rule of thumb I take into any disagreement is to consider if I’d would want my future children present. If not, I settle down. (This is a good method to employ in regards to someone else’s behavior too. I don’t keep people around that I wouldn’t want setting an example for the eventual bundles of joy that will bounce on my knee.)

Of course, settling down can sometimes be difficult, but it’s never impossible. At the beginning of my current relationship, one of the hardest things to overcome was my boyfriend’s dire need to work… all the time. I would make plans and he would inform me that he couldn’t go because he had to work. Again and again and again this happened, and I did my best to understand and accept it. The last straw came when he had promised me for weeks that he would be able to make a dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. The day of the dinner, he said he had to work. My initial reaction? Freak out. Again?! Use some curse words. Maybe even break-up with him. But I didn’t. I took a step back, swallowed my pride, and said “okay, we can talk later.” He left to go to work. Guess what? Half hour later he came back, apologized, and thanked me for not freaking out. We never even had the argument, but I won.

Lesson #3: Wait a while before you begin. 

This can be tricky, because mainly when you’re set to argue– you’re mad right then. However, waiting to discuss the matter at hand is beneficial for a few reasons. 1) You calm down. 2) Someone may regain their wits about them and accept that you’re right. And 3) If all else fails you have time to prepare with an actual argument. (Quick Tip: Powerpoint presentations are a wonderfully constructive method.)

But if there is one thing I’m most proud of in regards to my adept aptitude at quarreling, it’s that I manage to make it fun for those involved (usually). I have been told by numerous past and present boyfriends that this is so. I remember one instance when a boyfriend actually thanked me for this trait. (Quote: Thank you for making arguing so fun.) If I think of a joke mid-feud, I say it. If something strikes me as funny, I laugh. (Quick Tip: Not a good idea when dealing with the nutso type. It will result in more household items being thrown.) If I feel the situation is getting too heavy, I will attempt to lighten it. (Quick Tip: If at any point, you feel the argument has turned into one person littering logical fallacies upon you– grab your iPod, and play “Hungry Eyes” by Eric Carmen. Place it down in between the two of you as if nothing has changed and watch all anger dissipate. Nobody can stay mad with a soundtrack. I can attest to this.)

Lesson #4: Don’t forget to laugh. 

I don’t like arguments, but I do like to laugh. And so does everyone. Generally preceding the intent to prove my point, is the intent to make the other person laugh. I don’t like people being mad or upset or anything of the sort, and I personally also don’t like feeling these things. Infusing laughter into an otherwise not fun activity is a practice that more people should try more often. It really does help, and not just because people are giggling, but also because it has the power to transform an argument into what it should have been in the first place– a discussion, a conversation.

Photo: Ed Yourdon

All in all, arguing with somebody is not fun but if you can take a step back, cool down, laugh about it, and realize that some arguments just aren’t worth having, you’ll excel.

Because you won’t be arguing. You’ll be talking.

(Side Note: While discussing this blog with Sarah, she immediately insisted she was a better arguer than me. Let the record show, Sarah’s form of arguing is to accuse me of being a bad friend anytime I won’t do something for her or with her. We then began to argue about that. I would like to alert the whole internet to the fact that Sarah is not a good arguer. She is just a brat.)

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2 Responses to The Art of Arguing (or Why I Always Win)

  1. Jessica says:

    You are brilliant.

  2. Lisa says:

    rock on! i love this stuff.

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