Emotionally Intelligent Arguing

By Dr. Travis Bradberry

Arguments, disagreements, and differences of opinion in their various forms are unavoidable facts of life. Our inability to see eye-to-eye is so central to the human condition that some clashes stem from our physiology more than our free will. A study published this month in Current Biology that was conducted by the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience found remarkable anatomical differences in the brains of liberals and conservatives that contributed to their opposing political beliefs. It appears the human race is built for conflict.

When your opinions don’t mesh well with those of the person sitting across from you, the mark you leave on the situation comes from how well you understand and manage your emotions (not from what you say to prove your point). When emotions are allowed to run haywire during a disagreement, things discombobulate very quickly and the discussion goes nowhere. This clip from CNBC shows us just how foolish these moments are:

From the boardroom to the break room to your living room, arguments will inevitably surface, and you can handle them with emotional intelligence (EQ). Using your EQ will enable you to accomplish two important things:

  1. The argument itself will be far more rational and productive. Removing your strong emotions from the equation (by following the steps outlined below) keeps them from fanning the flames of discord. Regardless of how agitated the other party is, when you remain calm people are forced to lean further in this direction than they would have otherwise.
  2. The argument will do less damage to your relationship. Disagreements are fine, as long as they are conducted with consideration and respect. When you explode with emotion and say things that are better left unsaid, it has a lasting, negative impact on the relationship. When you approach a disagreement with emotional intelligence it has the opposite effect—it strengthens the relationship by showing the other person that you respect him or her, even when you don’t agree with his or her opinion.

When you find yourself in the middle of a disagreement, prepare yourself to take the emotional high road for the greater good of the relationship. It’s critical you avoid being defensive, remain open, and practice the strategies below. Instead of losing ground in a relationship because of a disagreement, you can actually create a moment that solidifies the quality of your relationship going forward.

Apply these strategies the next time opinions clash, and you’ll bring emotional intelligence to the place it’s needed most:

  1. Ask good questions. People want to be heard—if they don’t feel heard, frustration rises. Beat frustration to the punch and ask the other party to elaborate on his or her point of view. Even if the other person has already gone on and on about his or her opinions, it’s critical that you ask good questions about what he or she thinks and why he or she has reached these conclusions. Manage your own feelings as needed, and focus on understanding where the other person is coming from. By asking for input, you show that you care about the other person’s opinions and have an interest in learning more about his or her beliefs. This act establishes respect as the foundation for your discussion.
  2. Resist the urge to plan “comebacks” and rebuttals. Your brain cannot listen well and prepare to speak at the same time. Use your self- management skills to silence your inner voice and direct your attention to the person while he or she is speaking. The key here is to focus your energy on what’s required of you to engage in an emotionally intelligent discussion or argument. When you do the opposite—by focusing on “winning” the argument, or at least sneaking a barb in— you are engaging in an unproductive habit.
  3. Help the other person understand your side of things. Now it is your turn to help the other person understand your perspective. I italicize the word help because most people do nothing to explain their opinions during an argument. Sure, people are happy to voice their opinions, but they do nothing to bridge the gap between their perspective and how the other party sees things. Describe your discomfort, your thoughts, your ideas, and the reasons behind your thought process. Communicate clearly and simply; don’t speak in circles or in rhetorical code. This ability to explain your thoughts won’t win the other party over to your way of thinking, but it will show that you respect him or her and it will help this person to respect you.
  4. Keep in touch. Any resolution to an argument is not going to come in the heat of the moment. You can demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence by checking in with the other person (respectfully, of course) once the dust has settled. The idea here is to see if the other party is satisfied with how things are being handled, and to determine if there are any new avenues the two of you can explore to reach common ground.



Travis Bradberry, Ph.D.

Dr. Travis Bradberry is the award-winning co-author of the #1 bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and the cofounder of TalentSmartEQ, the world’s leading provider of emotional intelligence tests and training, serving more than 75% of Fortune 500 companies. His bestselling books have been translated into 25 languages and are available in more than 150 countries. Dr. Bradberry has written for, or been covered by, Newsweek, BusinessWeek, Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Inc., USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The Harvard Business Review.

Share this post