How to Argue the Right Way with Social Intelligence

I don’t have strong opinions about anything. Yeah, right. Actually, I know exactly what this world needs. It needs fewer people who know exactly what the world needs. Opinions are everywhere, and technology has made it even easier to share our opinions with the world.


I’m not against opinions. I’m not even against the tough discussions that different opinions sometimes create. I think conflict is healthy; it creates boundaries, and it holds people accountable. What I am against is people not dealing with conflict in a healthy way. When the tensions rise, it’s easy for our emotions to get out of control. I want to give you some suggestions that will help you argue and deal with conflict in the right way.





You may think that what we really need in this world and in our own lives is less conflict. I will argue against that thought process. We don’t need less conflict; we just need the right kind of conflict. When there is no conflict, several unhealthy scenarios occur. First of all, only a few get their way while the majority’s opinions go unheard. Secondly, the practice of passive aggressive behavior prohibits direct communication and open sharing of the truth.


Passive aggressive behavior is actually very common in churches because those who possess great compassion often avoid direct conflict. When someone is deeply compassionate, they often struggle with voicing hard truths. It’s very important to deal with difficult issues openly and timely in churches as well as other organizations in order to have productive relationships. This is where social intelligence can help.


I cover some important aspects of having tough conversations in a post from last November. It’s called "How to Have Tough Conversations.” Be sure to check it out. Today, I want to give you a few tips that are more specifically related to social intelligence.


One of the first things we need to remember when confronting behaviors is that we’re dealing with real relationships. Some of those relationships, such as those with family members, coworkers, or fellow workers in ministry, are extremely important. These are real people, and we need them in our lives.


We also need to remember that we don’t always have to win arguments. I am very competitive; but I know that if I’m going to consider the feelings of those I love and care about, I have to be comfortable with a resolution to the disagreement, even if that means the other person wins. The goal is not for only me to win; the goal is for us both to win. I can’t approach situations thinking that I’m always right and the other person is wrong. I can’t believe that I will always change the other person’s mind. If I do this, that person will most certainly resist.


If I approach the situation with a true desire to understand what the other person is feeling and thinking, I can be calm and the other person will feel heard. I can respond in a peaceful and compassionate way which will decrease the tension between us. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” A soft answer doesn’t equal weakness. It takes someone with a great amount of self-control to regulate their reactions when tensions are high.


What if the argument takes a wrong turn, and the other person becomes angry and raises their voice? Honestly, there is usually no way that you can speak sensibly to a person who is outraged. The only thing you can do in that moment is listen to them and tune-in to their emotions. If you respond to their behavior in kind, you will only make the situation worse.

When you listen to the other person, make sure you label the emotion that you’re seeing or even restate what they are saying to you. For example, you could say, “Ryan, you’re obviously very angry,” or “Ryan, you seem upset about this situation,” or “Ryan, it sounds like you are upset about. . .” This may sound overly simple, but it’s the height of social intelligence. Practicing these techniques really works to diffuse stressful situations.


Responding with anger, trying to control the situation, or even trying to reason with an overly agitated person is not going to help you improve the situation. The person needs to know that you hear what they're saying and you understand. Otherwise, they will likely continue to be angry until the situation explodes or they finally feel heard. If you’re going to get anywhere with this person, you have to show them that you’re on their side in resolving the conflict.

Something I recently learned from the book The Advice Trap by Michael Bungay Stanier is to stay inquisitive in all situations. Don’t push your agenda in order to save time or your reputation. Get curious and ask questions about why the person you’re talking to is so passionate in their opinions. You’re likely to come to a much greater understanding, and it’s possible you could even change your mind about the situation.


At the least, the other person will see that you truly want to understand their point of view. This will help them calm down and open their mind to your perspective. Trying to force someone to change their mind doesn’t work; they may submit to your authority, but I guarantee they will submit with resistance. Instead, try to use social intelligence so that you can have great conversations that lead to true, healthy resolutions.


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