I do not argue — ever. If you try to argue with me, I shut down completely; and if you are a yeller, you will be mocked.
Is this a healthy way to communicate? Absolutely not. But I loathe confrontation and if you back me into a corner, I’ll try to chew through the wall rather than argue.
Don’t be like me — arguing can be healthy!
Not all the time, of course, but conflict can clear the air, correct miscommunications, soothe hurt feelings, and let off steam, instead of that steam building up to resentment.
Unfortunately, conflict is inevitable in most areas of life: whether it be at work, with family, or with your partner. And the way in which you argue, or your “conflict style,” can alter how you communicate and affect your romantic relationship — and not in a good way.
Holly Roberts, a counselor from the relationship support charity Relate, gives the example of someone who is confident and assertive arguing with someone who’s a bit more introverted.
“That kind of argument is always going to end in the introverted person feeling like they’ve lost because they couldn’t express themselves well, while the other person may think they’ve ‘won’ but, actually, it feels like an empty victory,” she tells Refinery29.
“If the point of arguing is to try and make someone else understand what you feel,” then, as Roberts explains, “When it becomes argumentative and conflictual, the point of the argument is lost, and it’s just about he who shouts loudest.”
This is where knowledge of varying conflict styles helps you master better communication and argue in a healthier way.
“In a workplace or business environment, argument styles are called ‘conflict management styles,’ according to the Thomas Kilmann model, and fall into five clear camps: competing, avoiding, accommodating, collaborating, and compromising.”
Beverley Blackman, a psychotherapist and Counseling Directory member, says there are different roles into which people fall in the factors of an intimate partnership.
“There are a number of different roles that people fall into during arguments, and often this argument style is formed early in life, generally through modeling by parents or other authority figures such as teachers,” Blackman says.
“This role often becomes ingrained and unless we observe how we respond in times of conflict, we often remain unaware of it.”
While no person has a defined role that they consistently use, Blackman identifies the differences between five main types of conflict styles.
The “attacking” conflict style banks on calling attention to things that others are doing ‘wrong’ and stems from feelings of irritation or outrage.
“It can come across as aggressive and accusatory,” Blackman explains, “usually starting sentences with ‘You…’ For example: ‘You never put the washing away.’ Or ‘You always leave me to deal with the child’s teacher.’”
“This argument style can certainly help you express annoyance and anger at your partner but it doesn’t necessarily tell them what you want or need from them. And because it’s accusatory and the accusations are about your partner’s actions, it leaves them open to arguing back, which is when things can get heated. Because of this, attacking isn’t always the best way to resolve conflict.”
Being defensive happens in a lot of arguments, but especially if you are the target of an attacking argument. It’s human nature to try to defend yourself and provide clarifications or refute the claims.
“While defending yourself against an angry onslaught is a normal thing to want to do,” Blackman says, “It is something that doesn’t go very far towards solving the argument because these two styles are conflictual on a very closed, ‘Yes-No’ level, and leave little room for looking for resolution.”
This is my style — withdrawal – and it can alter the argument in two ways, “Depending on whether you are being withdrawn from or are the one withdrawing. If it’s the former, there will often be an urge to pursue the withdrawer in order to keep making your point or to try and resolve the argument.”
The background emotion here, Blackman says, is “Usually one of frustration or feeling unseen or unheard. While it’s great to want to resolve the argument, the difficulty is that you are not paying attention to your partner’s response or need to step away, so it is likely to heighten their emotion and make them more resentful towards you.”
If you are the one who is conflict-avoidant, usually it stems from feelings of fear or anxiety. “You don’t want to engage in the argument in any way and you will often want to emotionally detach from your partner if an argument is on the horizon. This can both frustrate and upset your partner. Again, it isn’t the best way to resolve conflict, especially,” Blackman adds, “if you fear that opening the topic up again later will result in your partner being angry again.”
Lastly, there is the rare but dreamy conflict style: open. Open means you can examine the entire scenario from all angles in a level-headed manner.
“This encourages your partner to think about the conflict and the way you are both reacting,” Blackman says, “And it is often productive if the partner feels listened to and understood — you may not agree with what they are saying but it helps if you can see their perspective. This serves to move the argument past the conflict phase and on to looking at ways in which you can both resolve the difficulty.”
You can identify the argument style you’re most attracted to by observing what is physically taking place in your body during an argument.
Roberts says: “Try to almost press pause on what’s going on and take a minute just to check in with yourself. Is your heart racing? Do you notice your legs feeling twitchy because you want to run away from the situation? Do you feel so angry that you don’t even know what you’re saying?”
Recognizing these signs during the encounter is key in determining whether your response is fueled by feelings — are you angry? Anxious? Do you want to flee?
“This can help you to argue in a more productive way, which can, in turn, help your personal relationships. To do this,” Roberts says, “You have to be mindful of what you are feeling and saying and owning your own behavior. If you are conflict-prone, for example, and really want to ramp up into a big argument, you know that it is not the other person making this happen but you.
“If I know that’s me that’s doing that and I’m owning this behavior, I have the capacity to change that, because I can change myself,” Roberts says. “And if I understand it, then maybe I can be a bit more responsive or have a bit more flexibility.”
This is especially helpful for relationships if you can pinpoint the argument style of your significant other, Blackman says.
“While you will still get into arguments, you will both have ways of being able to dial down the emotions more quickly and be able to focus on the problem at hand,” Blackman says. “If you can discuss your respective argument styles with each other (when you are both calm!) and explain how the other person makes you feel in an argument, it allows them to take it on board and consider it when it comes to conflict.”
This aids in finding a reciprocal path ahead and allows room for your feelings without using accusatory language or a defensive stance.
When all is said (or argued) and done, the reason for an argument is to have one’s say and have it be acknowledged and recognized. You want to be heard and know they understood.
Communication is critical and backing off from your go-to argument response helps you listen to your partner and be heard by them as well.
Are you aware of the different conflict styles? Do you know yours? Tell us below!
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