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I'm Not Arguing. I'm Just Explaining That I'm Right

Given my work as a trial consultant, I typically spend a lot of time on airplanes and consequently, in airports (at least until the COVID-19 outbreak). I was in an airport somewhere in the Midwest when I saw a fellow traveler wearing a t-shirt with words that I found positively brilliant: “I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining that I’m right.”

Oh, the home truth in that one! How many times have you found yourself in an argument, heated discussion, whatever you want to call it, where you were fiercely determined to get across your point of view, because you knew that you were RIGHT! Beyond a shadow of a doubt, no hesitation whatsoever, you were indisputably, totally, awesomely, RIGHT. Except that the significant other, friend, person, to whom you were simply trying to impart your rightness, saw your “explaining” for what it truly was: arguing for your position. Whereupon you blurted out, “I’m not arguing. I’m just explaining that I’m right.”

OK, so maybe not your exact words, but think about it. Haven’t you often found yourself persisting in a discussion because of your profound conviction of your rightness? Especially as we emerge from our time of social-isolation, each of us seems to have a different opinion of what’s the “right” way to go about it. The hiccup is, of course, that whoever you’re engaged in “discussion” with also thinks they are right. And rather than actually listening to the other person, you just plowed onward with explaining your “rightness.” As did they. Sigh.

The Art of Listening. So what to do? You’re probably not willing to cave, and say “Ok, you win, I was wrong.” Although you might, and it sometimes is the wisest course. Setting that option aside, how about hitting “pause” on that over active brain of yours, and simply listen to what the other person is saying? Listening as in paying attention to their words, the tone of their voice, the emotion with which they are speaking, even their body language. Listening without formulating your oh-so-clever comeback.

Specifically, listening for common ground. Listening for some aspect of what they are driving at that corresponds, even in a small way, with something you can agree with. For example, an argument over the family budget usually will have as common ground to the “You spend too much” “You’re a miser” positions, a desire to have a family budget that’s workable for all concerned. Notice I said workable, not perfect.

The Common Ground Approach. If you can find that piece of common ground, rather than continue to hammer away at “You spend too much/you’re a miser” positions, you can say something along the lines of “As I listen to you, I realize that what we both want here is a budget that actually makes sense to both of us.” Hard for your partner to disagree with that one. Maybe from there, you can back off the argument, and start to work towards a solution.

It's not easy. Yet, you’re a lot more likely to come to a feasible resolution if you quit defending your position under the guise of “explaining" and start heading in the direction of problem-solving.

Which yes, means listening with both heart and mind, to that person in front of you. It gets easier with practice, and eventually leads to a lot less grief.

1 Comment

Richard Ebner
Richard Ebner
Jul 01, 2020

You may have noticed that concepts—as well as specific lyrics—in popular music from many periods—have had a big influence on me and thus in my writing. So here I go once again. There is a recent popular song being played occasionally on Kiss-FM here in Rockland, Maine. The repeated refrain advises me to, “Always be humble and kind.”

I totally get the kind thing. Trying to be a good human being has been a continuing battle for me, and gets more complicated when I overthink it. Many times I’ve gotten caught up in arguments just to prove I’m better at arguing—usually the best according to me.

Then I consider how good it feels if I let others’ win—even when I…

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