3 Immature Mistakes People Make During Arguments
For most of my life, my parents fought. A lot. Their constant arguments ended with a divorce I welcomed with open arms, while also finally providing me with a calm environment where I could be, for the first time in my life, left at peace.
Whilst their unending fights instilled a deep fear of shouting within me, I also found them quite fascinating. I couldn’t help but analyse why my parents fought, and how these arguments were conducted. In time, I got really good at predicting what their words and actions would lead to and knowing why their communication mechanisms didn’t work.
As much as I try to be vastly different in my approach to arguments, sometimes I still let myself get pulled into the disaster that are immature fights. In today’s day and age where social media deeply influences our opinions because of algorithms designed for profit and manipulation, as the documentary The Social Dilemma portrays, it is getting even harder to have constructive and productive arguments.
We tend to stick to our point of view, balancing on one end of the rope and shouting insults at everyone who might dare to stand on the opposite side. They shout back, and so every attempt to solve the issue drowns in the noise. People in the middle shield their ears, their voices of reason trapped in the chaos.
I cannot help but agree with Julia Dhar, who says in her TED Talk, How to disagree productively and find common ground, that nowadays,
“Contempt has replaced conversation.”
The following examples portray immature and unhealthy behaviour during fights and why it isn’t effective. When we begin to understand the problems with these strategies, we can implement healthier ones. We can do better. There is still hope that we can have calm arguments, accept that people with different opinions aren’t monsters and open our minds to new information.
Getting Quickly Defensive
Immature people hate negative feedback, even when it’s given in the nicest way possible. Instead of accepting the possibility of being wrong, they can’t stand saying, “Actually, you might be right. I’ll think about it and get back to you.”
Anything that contradicts their world view is rubbish. They seek out information that supports what they already believe in. This is called Confirmation Bias. Throughout life, you collect information that creates and supports your values, moral principles and opinions. It can even become a strong part of your identity. This isn’t necessarily unhealthy since we are all products of the society we live in, in some way or another.
However, this mechanism can lead to the Backfire Effect when you’re presented with opinions that contradict yours. The more contradictions pile up, the more you bounce back and get firmly set on your original opinion. The more someone forces you into changing your opinion, the more you double down on your current one. At this point, you are simply arguing for the sake of being right because your whole value system feels threatened.
Science ABC compares this effect to building a house. If someone sets a part of your house on fire, you work hard to douse it and keep the fire away. Constructing a new part of the house would take lots of work, plus, it also means you’re opening yourself up to more fires and more changes.
However, self-improvement is mostly done through constant work and adjustment to new circumstances. It’s often difficult not to leash out and dismiss your opponent’s opinion, simply because that would be the easiest course of action. However, this behaviour creates a huge divide in the relationship, and it doesn’t offer much space to grow and learn more about the world.
What to do:
Instead of getting automatically defensive, it would be more productive to listen to what the other person has to say and reflect upon this. This not only helps you grow, but it also signals to others that you’re easy to approach and discuss issues with, which can lead to stronger bonds overall.
Your faults are not necessarily inherent personality issues. They can be certain kinds of behaviour that you’re able to change. When people criticise you, they are suggesting that change might be a good way to make everyone’s lives easier. Listen to it with humility and openness.
Attacking the Person, Not the Issue
Most of us have committed the Ad Hominem fallacy at some point in our lives. This means that instead of focusing on the opinion at hand, we prefer to insult the person presenting it. For example, instead of trying to offer a counterpoint to someone’s opinion on social issues, we might say, “I won’t even bother talking to you. You’re a leftist/right-winger,” or, “I knew you’d say that. You’ve always been a nutjob.”
This is problematic for many reasons, one of them being that it immediately prevents the conversation from going further and resulting in a compromise. By insulting the other person’s identity, the discussion switches to a completely different battlefield, one that’s much more likely to blow up because of its personal nature.
I have been guilty of applying the Ad Hominem fallacy. When my friend contradicted my perspective on an abstract concept such as the afterlife, I told her, “I’m feeling attacked by you. You always do this.” By positioning her in the role of an aggressive person who attacks me regularly, I directed the discussion towards her personality. The topic got lost. My comment upset her and created a conflict within the relationship when there was no need for it.
Ad Hominem isn’t an effective strategy because it also labels your opponent and makes it seem like they’re unable to change. Instead of criticising a specific behaviour or opinion, you attack their very identity. This doesn’t offer them the space to accept a new point of view while also staying true to who they are. People change views and mould themselves into a better person step by step, not all at once. They need to feel encouraged to change, not attacked for who they are.
What to do:
In Psychology Today, Glenn Geher Ph.D. writes:
“In reality, people who disagree on issues often have much more common ground than it appears. People who argue passionately about political issues with one another usually share, for instance, concern about the welfare of their society and the future of the nation.”
Finding your common ground is a great first step to having a compassionate conversation as it proves to you that you’re not that different after all. It dismantles the notion that you’re automatically placed into the roles of enemies. Instead, you are exploring each other’s perspectives as two curious human beings.
Always try to look beneath the surface. Ask penetrating, deep questions — inquire why your opponent feels the way they do and consider how they might have ended up with this mindset. Nobody is ever black-and-white. Everyone is complex and has their reasons for thinking as they do, which gives us great space to explore just how we could change their opinion.
Not Being Able to Handle Anger
Guilty. When I switched to a plant-based diet four years ago, I transformed into the walking stereotype for angry vegans. Every time someone tried to counterargue my new belief system, I got so upset that I couldn’t continue the conversation without seeming like an aggressive attacker who judged them hard for their life choices. With experience, I learned that my anger only made people retreat more into themselves and brace themselves against any new intrusion into their own ideologies.
Erupting in anger is a quick way to bring about the Backfire Effect. Aggressive anger can be scary and wildly irrational, and therefore it has no good influence on the receiver of the information. They can sense that your opinion might be tinted with heightened emotions, and therefore not completely logical.
It’s actually very likely that whilst angry, your arguments are not as rational as you would like them to be. Jack Schafer Ph.D. writes:
“The more angry people become, the less likely they are to logically process information. Angry people are not open to solutions when they are angry because their ability to think clearly is impaired.”
This signals to the other person that even though you strongly want them to be open to your suggestions, you are closed towards theirs. This leads to their lack of cooperation, which only angers you more. However, both parties need to have an open mind when it comes to exchanging opinions. Both need to show the willingness to change if presented with enough good proof.
What to do:
Anger management is a whole topic on its own. For the purpose of conducting constructive and calm arguments, make sure that you’re not overly upset about the topic in question. If you are, it is recommended to have some space for yourself to calm down.
Anger invokes biological responses to the flight or fight reflect, and it takes about 20 minutes for the body to return to its normal state after experiencing this effect. Make sure to process your anger and vent about it in some other environment before you come back to the original debate and try to find a new solution.
My friend always used to say, “I’d rather inspire people, not force them.” If you offer people your perspective with a kind and calm approach, they will be more likely to reflect on this than if you showed angry forceful behaviour. The best way to enact change is by kindly inviting people to join you.
Other Things to Avoid
There are many more unhealthy types of behaviour that deserve a mention. Immature people twist others’ words to fit their personal narrative, they project their own negative traits onto others, or they stockpile.
Stockpiling means they bring up problems long buried in the past that they can’t force themselves to let go of, which makes it difficult to move on and accept that we change throughout time. This affects lots of unhealthy relationships, forcing one of the participants to take the blame for something they already apologised for a hundred times and never repeated again.
One of my personal failures is that I find it hard to engage in an argument at all, undeniably a result of growing up in a violent environment full of conflict. Instead of choosing the fight response, I subconsciously opt for flight — this causes me to bury my anger deep within myself, which results in contempt, stress and holding grudges. I am learning how to approach conflict with open arms and open mind every day, and I believe I’m being successful on my journey to self-improvement.
Remember to take it step by step, day by day. What truly helps me is repeating affirmation words, as well as journaling. It allows me to analyse my childhood and dissect why I act the way I do.
“Why can’t they just calm down,” I used to think as I listened to my parents shout on the front seats of our car, my dad speeding over the limit. The answer is more intricate than my young self imagined. People fight for various reasons, most of them buried deep within their subconscious insecurities, fears and traumas.
The best way to deal with this, I have found, is through deep self-reflection and a desire to do better, to be a better human being for the sake of your future children, if you wish to have any, your close ones and your own peace. You must act upon this desire, however. Wishful thinking with no real results is a dead end.
The art of leading arguments rests, most of all, in humility and empathy. What’s essential according to Julia Dhar is:
“Embracing the humility of uncertainty, the possibility of being wrong.”
Our world is overloaded with information. We should accept the idea that we might have been presented with a distorted picture of the reality, that we might have missed out on some essential information. We also need to take into account the fact that people come from many different backgrounds, with different education and different channels of communication. There is always a reason why people act the way they do and why they hold certain opinions. The reality is often not as simple as we would like.
When we relax those firm beliefs a little, when we learn to deal with anger, discuss the issue rather than attack the other person and when we don’t automatically go into defence mode, we might find that connecting with people and exploring other ideas become much easier. I personally feel much more peaceful and at ease these days, precisely thanks to these revelations.
I would like to end this with the words of Mike Brooks Ph.D.:
“Ironically, it is through carefully and compassionately listening to others that we are more likely to sway their views. We just have to realize that we are likely to soften our views as well. And you know what? That’s okay. We all win when we can connect better with others.”
I couldn’t agree more.