It seems like we’re living at a time when arguments can arise quickly. Blame it on technology—social media offers a glimpse into everyone’s consciousness. Unfortunately, you don’t always need to know what everyone is thinking because it can kick off a chain reaction of barbs thrown back and forth. But it’s not just the digital space. At work, you’re bound to disagree with a coworker. At home, dustups can start at the drop of a dish (or the refusal to put said dish in the dishwasher). And when faced with a combative situation, your best defense is a strategy of psychological tactics that have been proven to not only diffuse tense situations but also help you get what you want.
Watch Your Body Language
Whether it’s intentional or not, your body language could be coming off as threatening. And intimidation hardly ever wins over your opponents. That includes staring someone down. Research from the University of British Columbia shows that prolonged eye contact—long considered an effective way of bringing someone to your point of view—may actually make people more resistant to persuasion, especially when they already disagree. So be sure to avert your eyes now and again to put the other person at ease. Body language experts also suggest standing or sitting in the same fashion as your opponent to appear less threatening.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Emotions can run high during disagreements, but losing your cool will undoubtedly turn off your partner and prevent them from listening to any point you make. PhD students at Cornell University analyzed two years of posts on the SubReddit ChangeMyView and found that people quickly switch off when confronted by harsh words, swearing or even just stubborn language. If you’re “too certain” or resolute in your position, you may actually weaken your position in other people’s eyes rather than convincing them.
By asking the right questions, you can stay in control of the discussion while getting a better understanding of your opponent’s point of view. You can ask questions that challenge his or her point: “What evidence do you have for that claim?” You might ask a hypothetical question: “What if every department at the company did this?” Or make it a bit more personal and calmly provoke your foe: “Why does this make you so angry?” If you want to diffuse the situation, you might ask: “What would you’ve liked me to do?” This lets the other person feel like they’re being heard, and thus open to hearing what you have to say.
Use an Anchor Advantage
“The anchoring effect is a cognitive bias that influences you to rely too heavily on the first piece of information you receive,” says psychologist and success coach Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. She says it’s the same principle stores use to convience you to buy something on sale. The initial price sets the value, so the markdown means you’re getting a bargain. The same idea can be brought to an argument or negotiation. Studies have shown that initial offers have a strong influence on the outcome, so the party that makes the first move and declares their intentions usually comes out ahead.