I’m not quite sure how this topic started. I was staring out the window, trying to think of something to write about when I saw a mother get upset at her son for not keeping up with her walking pace. Don’t people get it? We short people don’t have long strides! For every step you take we need about three. Then I started to think about my family, and how the holidays always seem to be fodder for useless, petty arguments over the dumbest things. I tend to gracefully (uncomfortably) bow out of conflicts and watch as the more conflict-prone people in my family confidently (arrogantly) battle to prove their point.
You know where I’m coming from. You probably know at least one. I know about four – people who just seem to get themselves into arguments…constantly. Why? I’ve got two words that might surprise you: Social awkwardness.
Normally, when I think of someone who is awkward in social situations, someone like Charlie Brown or Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory comes to mind. But I just can’t help but wonder, analyze, and stare in controlled awe as I watch someone pick a fight over the true origin of pasta, being overcharged 3 cents, or how many calories are in a slice of bread. Yes, I’ve witnessed them all.
The truth is, a lot of the people who find themselves arguing on a regular basis may actually be committing several social faux pas and not realizing it…aside, of course, from the obvious…constantly picking fights in socially inappropriate moments. When I looked at data from our Social Skills Test and focused on people who confessed that they get into arguments at least once a week, I uncovered some rather interesting tidbits. For example:
- The conflict-prone group has rather poor listening skills.
In fact, several admitted that they are often accused of “looking like they’re not interested in what others have to say.”
- They tend to say or do insensitive things that upset others.
Ok, not exactly a ground-breaking discovery. The good news is, there seems to be a recognition that at least some of the fights they get into might be a result of the old “putting foot in mouth” problem.
- They tend to jump to conclusions or misinterpret what others say.
I can’t help but be reminded of that scene in Goodfellas when Tommy DeVito starts that really awkward argument with Henry. The same seems to happen with our conflict-prone group (and myself, sadly). We have a tendency to overanalyze what people say, and then assume that there’s an insult or slight hidden somewhere in between the lines. Or we automatically assume the worst of a person, and refuse to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know – it’s a little difficult to hear someone out when you’ve already drawn the conclusion that they’re guilty of some transgression you have yet to establish.
- When they’re stressed, they tend to take it out on other people.
Now we’re getting somewhere. Although it’s likely unintentional, the conflict-prone group tend to have difficulty channeling their stress in a healthy way and instead, take their frustration out on the next unsuspecting person who annoys them. This in turn will probably put the other person on the defensive and voilà – the perfect recipe for an argument.
- They are unable to control a bad mood when it is required.
Along the same lines as the stress issue, the conflict-prone group just can’t seem to pull themselves out of a grouchy mood. If they’re angry, they’ll let everyone know it, no matter where they are or whom they are with. On the one hand, I applaud the fact that the conflict-prone group are willing to connect with their anger and express it (rather than bottling it up). Anger itself isn’t a problem – it’s the manner in which we release it, and that’s what my conflict-prone group need to work on.
As I poured over my analysis of the Social Skills data and gazed at the little dots that represented the conflict-prone group on my graph, I noticed something peculiar: The people who indicated that they “never” argue didn’t necessarily possess the best social skills, at least not in all situations. For example:
- They admitted that their facial expressions don’t always match what they’re really thinking or feeling, which means they keep a lot bottled up inside. This leads me to the next statistic:
- They won’t speak up when something is bothering them. Unfortunately, frustration will always find a way to make itself know, whether it’s through ailments in the body or passive aggression. So while it may sound saintly and zen-like to hear someone say that they never argue, it always makes me wonder how much hostility, resentment, or frustration they’re keeping inside – or how many times they find themselves having to bite their tongue. Which leads me to the next issue:
- They are not entirely comfortable in emotionally charged situations. It’s easy to prevent arguments when you avoid them entirely. I can’t help reiterate this, but anger and conflict is not always a bad thing. Simply put, if you don’t tell a person that something they’re doing hurts, upsets, or saddens you, the issue will never be resolved and the person will just keep doing it. Which means you’ll either have to face the issue or run from it – again.
So what’s the lesson here? If you find yourself arguing with people more often than you buy a morning coffee, there’s only so many times you can say to yourself that it’s the other person’s “issue.” It might be a good time to do a little introspection, and ask yourself whether there might be something you’re saying or doing that could be adding fuel to the fire.
On the other hand, if you’re like me and tend to dance around conflict like you have two left feet: Recognize that while arguing is awkward, it can sometimes bring to light important issues – perhaps an issue that, if left unresolved, can eat away at your peace of mind and over time, result in a buildup of resentment that will take a toll on your relationships.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to head off to visit my family and try to practice what I preach.