How to Argue Effectively (Like an Adult)


I come from a confrontational family. Growing up, arguments in my household were generally “resolved” (and I use the term loosely) by whoever could yell the longest and loudest. As with many things, if you’re around something long enough it becomes ‘the norm’ for you and it doesn’t even cross your mind that it might be, frankly, insane. For many years I thought lengthy yelling contests were the way conflicts were handled. Over the years I’ve come to understand the error of my ways and formed some new and more effective opinions…

Commandments of the Un-Adult Argument

1. Thou Shalt Always go on the Offensive (without acknowledging the original accusation)

Example: Your partner or parents are mad about the dishes you left out. No problem, just remind him/her/them how many times in the last month they have left socks on the floor, neglected to do the laundry, feed the dog, or vacuum the floor.

2. Thou Shalt Never Back Down

Example: You’re dead wrong and there’s no getting around it. Never Admit it. Stick to your guns like your life depends on it. This can mean coming up with some fairly “creative” arguments.

3. Thou Shalt Always Take Things out of Context

Example: Favorite Phrase: “Well, what you said *EXACTLY* was…and that means…”

4. Thou Shalt Escalate when Thwarted

Example: They aren’t giving in no matter how much you scream. Obviously they don’t love you. Say so – preferably with hysterics.

5. Thou Shalt Start an Argument to Relieve Stress (or: Thou Shalt Use Another Person as a Punching Bag)

Example: You’ve had a bad day and you’re feeling stressed/unhappy/depressed/road ragey. Fighting is a great way to get all that out. Who cares if it’s hurtful, unnecessary, and immature?

6.Thou Shalt Use Fallacious Arguments Whenever Possible

Example: Personal favorites were the Appeal to Widespread Belief (“Well everyone knows that…), The Strawman (I know you said X but if you look at Y they’re similar/the same and obviously Y is wrong so therefore…) and the Reductive Fallacy (Oversimplification)

7. Thou Shalt Carry a Grudge (also known as Thou Shalt Always Enter a Fight Armed to the Teeth)

Example: Someone told you once that a dress didn’t look good on you. Never forget it. Ever. Remember everything he/she/they have EVER done wrong as long as you’ve known them and throw it in their faces.

8. Thou Shalt Batter their Resistance to Splinters Through Persistence & Repetition

Example: It’s been hours of screaming and fighting. Your “opponent” is emotionally burned out, or more likely, exhausted because it’s 3am. Keep it up. Outlast them. If they’re still conscious, the fight isn’t over.

9. Thou Shalt Indulge in Long, Unrelated Tangents

Example: Can’t win a particular point? Find something loosely related (and if you can’t find something close enough- make something up) and rant about that. Distraction is the key to this one.

10. Thou Shalt Inundate Thy Opponent with Guilt and/or Hysterics (also see Thou Shalt Escalate)

Example: If you don’t want me around, FINE! I’m taking my toys and going home!

As you can imagine, these tactics have exactly zero chance of actually RESOLVING the argument but they’re very common, particularly in Un-Adult persons (and the chronological age of the person in question has absolutely nothing to do with it). So how exactly does one Argue Like an Adult? Behold, (for symmetry of course):

The Commandments of the Adult Argument.

1. Thou Shalt Shut the Hell Up

Stop talking. No, seriously. Stop talking. Listen to whoever you’re arguing with and pay attention to what they’re saying. Don’t just sit there and simmer and formulate your next sally at their expense or wait for your turn to talk.

2. Thou Shalt Use “I” Statements

This one’s been said a lot but I stand by it. Use sentences like “When X happens, it makes ME feel Y” and “I feel that…” and not “Well YOU did so and so…”

3. Thou Shalt Avoid (Like the Plague) Hyperbolic Words

Using words like “always” and “never” just makes you sound unreasonable to the person you’re arguing with. I mean, really, who can argue with always and never?

4. Thou Shalt Prepare Thyself to be Wrong

Do I have to? Yes. Yes you do.

5. Thou Shalt Learn to Sincerely Apologize (also known as Thou Shalt not Apologize in a Passive-Aggressive, Insincere, or Sarcastic Way)

This one actually takes some practice. Nothing will set off someone like an insincere or self-pitying apology. Additionally, don’t say ‘I’m sorry’ in a shitty way and expect someone to take it seriously. Would you accept that? No? They won’t either.

6. Thou Shalt Not Use Inflammatory Language

Do not make statements using any of the following words to describe the person or his/her ideas: dumb, idiot, ridiculous, crazy, insane, stupid, immature, selfish, et al.

7. Thou Shalt Keep Thy Argument Private

Don’t drag other people into your argument. Don’t publicize it, don’t put it on any social media sites or public blogs, don’t tell all your friends and family. Keep it between you and the person you’re arguing with.

8. Thou Shalt Learn the Value of Walking Away

“People” say ‘Never go to bed mad’ is a good rule. I say ‘Go the F&*k To Bed (Mad)!’ Learn to recognize when an argument is no longer progressive and step away from it. Ask yourself if you’ve stopped working toward a solution and have just fallen into a blame cycle.

9. Thou Shalt Assess the Significance of the Argument

No matter how much you love someone, sometimes they’re just going to piss you off. It’s a fact of life. Will you care about this in a week? No? Let it go gracefully.

10. Thou Shalt Learn to Forgive

There’s a saying that if you wait until someone apologizes to forgive them, you’ll carry it to your grave. Everyone says hurtful messed-up things in arguments, the trick is learning to recognize that you (or your partner) didn’t mean everything you said.

It took me years before it actually sunk into my head that “winning” an argument doesn’t make the issues go away and it doesn’t heal the damage caused by the argument in the first place. I have learned that what prevents these Un-Adult tactics from success is that they’re “Winning at All Costs” tactics and not Resolution tactics and that is a very important distinction to make.

This is not to say that you should never disagree with your partner, your parents, or your best friend; far from it. Arguing is a normal part of life and sometimes, even if you employ my Commandments for the Adult Argument, you may not get a resolution. But you’re damn sure not going to get one if you use the Un-Adult ones. Oh, and for the record; disagreeing in a respectful and open-minded way is definitely an Argue Like an Adult tactic!