When you're dealing with different people and personalities, conflict is going to be inevitable. And if you find yourself in an argument with someone, the best thing to do is resolve it as quickly as possible. But that's often easier said than done. So what's the best way to de-escalate an argument before things get heated? According to experts, it's all in the words you say.
There are many common mistakes people tend to make when they're in the middle of an argument. As Licensed Professional Counselor, Julie Williamson, tells Bustle, failing to actually listen to the other person is one of the biggest ones. "When you're preparing your defense or next argument, you most likely miss what the other person is saying entirely," she says. "This can keep the argument going indefinitely without ever really resolving the conflict."
Just remember, arguments involve at least two people and it takes effort from both parties to resolve it. When you're saying a bunch of things that rub the other person the wrong way without you realizing, it's going to get harder and harder to work out a resolution when someone's feelings get hurt.
In short, the words you say really matter. So here are words you should never use if you really want to de-escalate an argument, according to experts.
1. "It's Not That Big Of A Deal"
Maybe it really isn't. But telling someone that is a surefire way to make things worse, not better. "This phrase should never be used because you are invalidating the other person's experience," Williamson says. When you tell someone "it's not that big of a deal," more often than not, it's actually used to make you feel better, not the person you're talking to. "This could actually make the other person even more upset or shut down entirely, which will not resolve the conflict," she says.
2. "Whatever Makes You Happy"
"Some of the biggest mistakes people make when they argue is trying to avoid the confrontation by succumbing to whatever it is the other person is arguing about," Jenna Ponaman, CPC, ELI-MP, Relationship Coach and Expert, tells Bustle. But doing so can often appear passive-aggressive or make it seem like you don't care enough about the other person or the relationship to voice an opinion. So avoid using words like, "sure," "whatever you want," or "I don't really care." According to Ponaman, these words establish avoidance and imply that you've given up. That can have a way of making the person you're arguing with even more upset if they want to work on resolving the conflict.
3. "Calm Down"
During arguments, any variation of "relax" or "chill out" should be avoided. "The implication is that the other person is becoming emotional and upset and is no longer rational," Celeste Headlee, communication/human nature expert and author of We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations that Matter tells Bustle. It's like saying, "I can't even speak to you when you're like this," which doesn't really accomplish much besides making the other person even more angry. At the same time, Headlee says these words downplay the other person's argument as being emotionally-driven. "But of course there is emotion involved," she says. "A conversation between two human beings will almost always involve emotions because we are social and emotional animals."
4. "You Always ... "
"You" statements during arguments will almost always end in some kind of an accusation. When that's followed by "always" or "never," it can put your partner on the defense and escalate the argument. "The minute you accuse your partner of something, or interpret what [they] said, you’re going to get a fight," psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, LMFT, PhD, tells Bustle. Even the smallest thing like, "You always forget to take out the trash" or "You never listen" can make someone feel attacked. So instead, use "I" statements like "I feel hurt" or "I don't understand why..." In doing so, Tessina says your partner is much more likely to settle down and actually listen.
5. "I'm Just Done With You"
No matter how angry you are, never resort to "childish" threats and statements like "I hate you" or "I'm done with you," during an argument. Most likely, these words get said in the heat of the moment and you may not actually mean it. But according to Tessina, when you say these things, you’re scaring both yourself and your partner. That fear then gets masked with more anger, which will escalate your argument even more.
6. "You're Useless"
"It’s easy to throw around insults in a fit of anger or frustration, but making someone feel insignificant during an argument is a guaranteed way to escalate tensions," Heather Ebert, dating and relationship expert, tells Bustle. You may feel a certain way about someone in the moment, but words can sting. You never know how one small thing you say in the heat of the moment can affect your relationship with that person in the long run.
7. "You're Wrong"
One of the biggest mistakes people make during arguments is interrupting and immediately taking the defense. "When people feel attacked, even during a seemingly calm discussion, one may be incessant about not being guilty of whatever it is they are being accused of," Ponaman says. When you say the words, "you're wrong," you're pretty much guaranteed to follow that up with a heated argument for why they're wrong and you're right, which rarely brings any conclusion to an argument.
So if these are words you shouldn't say, what are words you should? According to Headlee, it's OK to say, "I need a moment" when things are getting tense. Keep in mind, this is not the same as brushing off an argument (i.e. "I don't have time for this. We'll talk later"). Instead, it's being self-aware enough to know when you need a time out to rebalance yourself. Just make sure you follow through by returning to the subject as soon as tempers have cooled, she says.
We all get into arguments from time to time. But if you can make it a point to avoid certain words and phrases, you can hopefully de-escalate those arguments as quickly as possible.