Business Advice

Three steps to effectively deal with a heated argument

Dominic Powell /

In the often hectic world of business, not every situation can be resolved amicably.

Entrepreneurs will encounter arguments, and when those arguments get heated it can be hard to diffuse the situation.

The co-founder of business advisory firm 3COze Liane Davey has written on this truth for Harvard Business Review and provided entrepreneurs and business owners with her hot tips when it comes to dealing with a heated argument.

“Although productive conflict is a hallmark of high-performing teams, many teams struggle to communicate dissenting opinions without triggering resistance and defensiveness. They fall into unproductive conflict by invalidating one another as they argue,” Davey writes.

She outlines a series of common mistakes made by teams when arguing, including passive-aggressive behaviour, questioning co-workers competence, and taking increasingly polarised points as the argument progresses and consequently devolves.

Solving these issues boils down to one point, believes Davey: Validating and acknowledging what your verbal sparring partner has to say. She recommends business owners “approach a conflict by validating rather than invalidating”.

“Validating someone you’re having an argument with simply means giving credence to the debate and to the debater,” she says.

“Rather than negating the other person’s perspective, you accept two things: 1) it’s valuable to hear different perspectives and to ensure the team is thinking an issue through fully, and 2) the person you’re arguing with is adding value by presenting a unique point of view.”

Here are three tips for dealing with a fiery argument.

1. Change your language

Small changes in your language while arguing can dial down a heated argument to a polite disagreement. Davey says “small changes in the language you use will demonstrate that you value the other person and her perspectives”, and she recommends using language such as:

“I think this is a really important issue that we need to talk through openly,” or;

“Thanks for raising this issue. I’m uncomfortable with where we’re heading and would feel better if we could talk it through as a team.”

2. Cover their points

Diffusing an argument can also be achieved by repeating someone’s points as part of your retort, Davey advising terms such as, “What you want us to factor into the plan is ____” or “What I heard you say is ____; is that accurate?”

“The important thing is that your words and body language demonstrate that you value the conflict and the person involved. That doesn’t mean you agree with his point. It does mean that you’re listening and adapting what you think based on his contribution,” she says.

3. Re-introduce your perspective

“The next stage is to pivot the conversation to introduce your perspective,” says Davey, proffering these lines as suggestions:

“Thanks for raising this issue, because I’m uncomfortable with where we’re heading. My discomfort stems from…” or;

“You come at this from a very different perspective than I do, so it’s natural that we see it differently. My perspective is based on…”

“If you go first in validating the importance of the debate and the value of the person you’re debating with, you will reduce defensiveness, keep things issue-focused, and greatly increase the speed with which you get to a mutually agreeable solution,” she says.

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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