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Try This One Trick to Take the Anger Out of an Argument

by Jay Heinrichs
featured, money & life

Learn the essential art of the argument on CreativeLive.

We all have disagreements. The problem is, when things get heated, we tend to get angry or back off. That flight or fight instinct is in our genes. So what should you do when you do in a confrontation, when you feel angry or intimated?

First, know that an argument isn’t a fight. When we fight, we try to win, to dominate our opponent. We talk louder, toss as many facts as possible, or even make up facts.

In an argument, the goal is to win over other people. Ideally, we get what we want while making the others think they won.

To turn a fight into an argument while getting people to calm down, try this: Switch to the future tense. I have taught it to thousands of people who swear it works. The future tense is the language of choices—decisions that affect the future.

Anger and raised voices rarely works. There is a better way. Learn it.

The past tense, on the other hand, is where people prosecute each other’s crimes. You left the toilet seat up again!

The present tense gets used to talk about good and bad, who’s good and who’s bad. A thoughtful man wouldn’t leave the toilet seat up!

And the future? Let’s see how my son, George, used it to get out of trouble. He was 15, and he left me without any toothpaste in the bathroom.

Me: Who used up all the toothpaste?

George (sarcastically): That’s not the point, is it, Dad? The point is, how are we going to keep this from happening again?

He had me. I had taught him for years that the future tense was a great way to get out of trouble. It focuses on the fix instead of the crime. Sure, he was being sarcastic, but I was so pleased he’d actually been listening to my dinnertime lectures, I let him have his victory.

Me: OK, George, you win. Now, will you please get me some toothpaste?

George: Sure, Dad!

He went into our freezing basement and got a tube. George was happy he beat his dad in an argument. And me? I got a teenager to run an errand. Happily.

I’d say the future looks bright for this relationship.

Anger and raised voices rarely works. There is a better way. Learn it.

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Jay Heinrichs

Jay Heinrichs is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion.