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Ask Dan
I have trouble arguing my point effectively at the office. I often become harsh without meaning to. How can I learn to avoid this?
The main reason people argue too heatedly is because they often feel threatened, and thus feel the need to go on the defensive. There are a couple of steps I recommend that will help pull the plug on this process, and avoid turning an argument into an Armageddon.

The first step is to steer clear of assuming hard-and-fast positions that you might have trouble backing down from later. For example, you might take a stubborn stance over some bone of contention by stating, "This is wrong," or "I'm not going to do this that way." Drawing such lines in the sand implies that there will be winners and losers in the argument, forcing others to adopt an equally offensive, take-no-prisoners attitude. Eschew such language, and instead substitute phrases such as "I feel that..." and "I believe that..." when explaining your point of view. The moderate tone of these phrases implies that you're comparing a viewpoint rather than commanding an agreement.

The next step is to solicit the reasons for the other person's position. Find out what it is he or she really wants to gain. Often, when you understand the other person's interest, you can find a way to compromise. Indeed, just making the effort to understand will help diffuse tension, and create a situation where both parties can leave happy instead of heated.

Dan Lumpkin, organizational psychologist, is the president of management-consulting company Lumpkin & Associates in Fairhope, AL. Need answers? Email your career-related questions to askdan@exhibitormagazine.com.
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