Communication is one of the vital elements of simply being alive. We are designed to interact with others, to feel heard, valued, appreciated, and more. Though this interaction is innate, it does not reach its full potential naturally unless we, as adults, take the responsibility to continually learn, practice, and get better at it.
As I get older, the more I realize how little I was taught about effective communication and can see how much more work I still have ahead. At the same time, I feel encouraged and motivated to keep working hard because I have seen the results of my effort in my relationships with those around me.
Also, the more I sit and listen to my clients struggle to feel understood, seen, and heard, the more I want to do whatever it takes to get better at it myself. The better I am at communicating, the more equipped I will be to pass this on to those around me.
How do we practically learn how to communicate well? Here are some tools, skills, and suggestions for those who want to be better at arguing, communicating, and being assertive.
Getting to a place of truly knowing ourselves and embracing who we are is key to learning to argue well. Most of us weren’t given healthy tools to express our emotions, thoughts, and feelings. We’ve been given what our primary caregivers were able to give and/or show us by example. As we grow up, we not only carry these skills into our relationships, but as a result of these interactions, we develop our own skill set.
Often, it isn’t until we are adults that we feel the evident discomfort of ongoing arguments gone wrong—feeling misunderstood, unseen, unworthy, alone, and so on. It is then that we have a choice to make. Either we continue in this unhealthy and self-degrading pattern or we get to work learning to be present—aka,
knowing what we’re truly feeling in the moment,
knowing where the feeling stems from, and
knowing what buttons we have and which one is getting pushed in an argument.
In order to argue well, we must be self-aware. This can only happen if we know our own narrative well enough to make sense of today. We have to be willing to take the risk to be vulnerable and share out of our story. Being vulnerable allows us to drop our weapons and engage differently.
Practicing being aware, present, and vulnerable gets us on our way to the next step. Keep in mind, knowing how we feel and what triggers us is not the end or solution to arguing well.
Often times, when we reach this place of feeling confident in our self-awareness, we can make the mistake of just vomiting our feelings and thoughts on to the other person. Putting down our weapons saves the day in arguing well when we realize that we need to reframe and change our approach—which is just as important as being self-aware.
The Gottman Institute is an amazing resource for healthy relationships. They’ve done (and continue to do) tons of research with couples. One of the many things they have identified is something they call “The Four Horsemen.” This points out the approach we should NOT take if we want healthier relationships (inside or outside of a marriage relationship). The four elements that will hinder your ability to argue well and certainly get in the way of putting down your weapons are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling.
Even without the definitions of these in front of us, we can see that there’s no vulnerability in “The Four Horsemen.” Arguing without employing any of these four elements takes practice. It may take some failed attempts and it may also be scary.
Taking the risk to be vulnerable and change the way we approach an argument sometimes is hindered by what the other person may say or how they will respond. Yes, it’s true, it takes two to have a reciprocal and effective argument. However, we will always have the choice to work on our part, owning our stuff, and being vulnerable. Getting to a place of doing what’s healthy—regardless of what others do, say, or think—will help us argue well. In the end, we will be a safer person to those around us.
When we practice gratitude, especially in the midst of uncertainty, it takes our focus off ourselves and the situation, and draws us to our heavenly Father. In the moment, we are reflecting on God’s goodness in our lives. Developing an attitude of gratitude will continue to bring us into relationship with God.
Not all arguments will end “well” or be resolved. After all, it takes both parties to do their part. This doesn’t mean we didn’t succeed at doing it “right.” It may just mean the other person wasn’t ready, willing, or able to argue well. Working on our own stuff gives us the perspective to see and understand the brokenness in others and have grace toward them. However, grace toward them doesn’t necessarily mean we have to just put up with it though. We may need to establish healthy boundaries so that we don’t continue to get hurt.
Arguing well is still a scary thing for me. Taking the risk to have what could be a difficult conversation is never easy.
But man is it fulfilling when we come out of an argument where we know we did well! One where we put down our weapons, were self-aware, and were okay with being vulnerable. It is even more amazing when having difficult conversations helps a relationship develop into a deeper, more intimate connection.
Feeling God’s love through a human relationship makes all the hard work worth it.
I dare you to try it! Seek and get help, or ask for help, if you don’t know where to start. It’s worth it to face the fear, pain, and discomfort because you are worth it.
Rebecca is a Clinician with Pure Desire's Clinical Team. She has been in ministry for more than 20 years and was first introduced to Pure Desire in 2007, when she served as a translator for Dr. Ted and Diane Roberts in Central and South America. Rebecca is the Small Group Trainer and primary point of contact for the Spanish community.