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When and how to argue; make sure the issue is important enough and that the argument can resolve it.

When and how to argue From time to time, people at work get upset, angry, and frustrated. When that happens, they may say or do things they later regret. For example, here's an argument that had serious consequences:

Technologist: "The snow is really coming down. I'd like to leave early."

Supervisor: "The laboratory manager said we'll have to wait until we hear from Personnel."

Technologist: "I have a long commute, and I'm afraid to drive in weather like this. It's too dangerous."

Supervisor: "Well, you're just going to have to wait with the rest of us."

Technologist: "That's stupid! If you don't let me go, I'll leave without your permission."

Supervisor: "You do that and I'll make sure you regret it."

This seemingly minor incident escalated into a cold war between the technologist and supervisor. Their relationship became so strained that it interfered with smooth operation of the section. Both engaged in childish tit-for-tat behavior, which eventually led to the technologist's dismissal and a black mark on the supervisor's record.

Arguments need not lead to negative consequences. By definition, an argument is "the presentation of reasons for or against a thing" or "persuasion by reasoning." Too often, however, emotion replaces reason. Parties stubbornly cling to their positions and get embroiled in destructive, emotional clashes.

This happens because many of us view an argument as a win-lose test of strength. When we meet resistance, we push harder, and in turn so does the other person. The struggle continues until someone gives in and feels defeated.

When you argue, you cannot afford the consequences of relying on emotions. You should argue to solve problems, not create them. The following guidelines can help you argue in a way that is more likely to produce positive results:

1. Pick your arguments carefully. Make sure the issue is worth arguing about. It should be really important and require action in order to be resolved. Often, an issue seems important only because you or the other party let emotions distort reason. To avoid doing this, ask yourself, "What will happen if I choose not to argue about this? Will it continue to bother me? Will the situation get worse?"

For example, Susan's lab manager had a bad day--everything went wrong. Finally he overreacted and accused her of sloppy supervision after one of her chemistry technologists made a mistake. Although the criticism was unjustified, Susan bore in mind that her boss was usually complimentary instead of critical. She decided to overlook the accusation.

2. Argue when you can win. Be sure you have a reasonable chance to prevail. Conversely, don't argue over something you know you can't do anything about.

Randolph was disappointed that he did not receive added responsibilities during the lab's recent reorganization while other supervisors did. Even so, he understood that it was too late to argue the matter. He had failed to present his views when they might have changed things--before the reorganization was completed.

3. Don't get personal. Attack issues, not each other. It's better to say, "I don't feel the same way about that, "than to antagonize by declaring, "You're wrong!"

4. Stick to the issue. Don't reach back into the past and drag other problems into the argument. If you break this rule, the other party may choose to argue about one of the more trivial issues instead of the one you originally presented. Besides, he or she may feel you have so many disagreements that it's hopeless to try to resolve any of them. And there could be hurt feelings because you didn't mention the other problems earlier.

5. Argue with the right person. Don't argue with someone who isn't directly responsible for a problem and can't do anything about it. You won't solve anything, and you may alienate the person.

Elaine, a day shift supervisor, made that mistake. She was upset because her staff always had to complete the night shift's leftover work. After one especially hectic morning, she accused the night shift supervisor and her technologists of goofing off. What Elaine didn't realize was that the night shift was understaffed and couldn't possibly handle the routine workload.

6. Let the other person retreat honorably. A person who feels cornered is likely to become belligerent and fight even harder. On the other hand, someone who is able to admit you're right without losing face is more willing to make concessions and resolve the dispute.

When George talked to Marie about her recurrent latenesses, she became very defensive and said George should be more understanding about the problems of a single parent with young children. Marie argued that she couldn't leave the house until her baby-sitter arrived. George countered that he couldn't allow her to keep coming in late.

They were at an impasse because Marie believed she had a legitimate excuse for being late. Realizing this, George gave her a way to admit she had to do something about the problem: "I know you'd like to come to work on time, and you also realize that I can't allow you to continue arriving late. How long would it take to make different child care arrangements?"

7. State exactly what you want. Have you ever argued with someone who griped about a problem but couldn't tell you what to do about it? Don't fall into this trap. It's pointless and makes you look foolish. Argue to achieve specific concessions that you have clearly identified beforehand.

8. Try to anticipate the other point of view. This helps you present your argument in a manner more acceptable to the other party.

In the case of George and Marie, he probably knew why she was coming in late. Yet he appeared insensitive by failing to preface the argument with a statement that showed he understood the special problems of single parents.

9. Keep your emtions under control. The goal is to convince the other party to do things your way. Anger, noise, and name calling won't accomplish this. Calm, reasonable, logical presentations are much more likely to help you gain your point. If you rehearse well enough, you will react properly--even under stress--in real-life situations of high emotion, strain, anger, or fear.

10. Be a good winner or loser. Don't crow when you win, and be gracious and accept the decision when you lose. Otherwise, an argument has the potential to permanently harm your relationship with the other party. Nobody likes to lose, yet most arguments can only have a win-lose conclusion. Even so, the wounds will heal if the winner is considerate and the loser doesn't brood about the loss.

Short-term gains come at too high a price if they cause long-term harm to a valued working relationship.
COPYRIGHT 1986 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Roseman, Ed
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Jun 1, 1986
Words:1117
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