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I’d Like To Argue My Case: Part 2

February 4, 2010

So I recounted the tale of the association meeting to my two friends over lunch and asked them how they do it:  how do they stand in confrontation with someone, whether it be an opposing attorney, a judge, a friend or colleague, and get their point across while seeming to remain calm and self-possessed.  I told them that in many situations I get shut down by the shock of the irrationality of the other person and don’t know how to react.  I said that I often feel like I don’t stand up for myself and I wanted to know where their confidence came from.

They both sat there blinking at me for a few moments and then said that in their opinion, I am not one to back down.  One said that many attorneys, for example, are in fact nervous when arguing their case but they get through it anyway.  I asked him why he never seemed to be nervous and he said, “Having been a former cop and having been shot at and hit with a pool cue over the head; what’s the worst they can do to me?  I just don’t care.”  Then they said that in the example I gave them, I did the right thing.  They said that I could have gone along with “A” and made it a personal argument between us in the middle of the association meeting, but what good would that have done?  I chose to back away from her attempt to draw me into her histrionics and it was the best course of action.  While there are things that I could have said to her, it doesn’t mean that I should have.

I raised another example of a dispute I’d had with a colleague few years ago.  This person, whom I’ll call “L,” had gone behind my back and tried to assign me various tasks and then complained when I didn’t do them (because they weren’t part of my job!).  She then went on this several month rampage wherein she tried to discredit me to my supervisors and attack me in e-mails.  All the while I never gave in to her rage.  Every time she accused me of something or responded nastily in an e-mail I took the higher ground, never retaliating or even pointing out the untruth of her accusations.  I set up a meeting with her to try and clear the air but it was obvious she was inent on holding a grudge and making me the scapegoat for her anger and unhappiness.  The whole time I remained calm and professional, but inside I wanted to scream out: “You lying old bitch!  Who made you my boss?  What did I ever do to you?  When are you going to pull that stick out of your ass?”  I wanted to point out the inaccuracy of every statement she was making, but what would have been the point of arguing with her?  Her mind was set.  Again, my friends told me what I already knew:  in this instance too, I did the right thing.  Even though I stewed about that confrontation with “L’ for months and listed in my head point by point all the things I could have said to her, I knew the truth and I could be proud of how I handled the confrontation.  But I still kind of wish I would have called her a “lying old bitch.”  That would have been fun.

I know that there will be many times in the future that I will wish an argument had gone a different way.  I will wish I had had the chance to make all my points, that I had not taken the diplomatic path, that I had not stared in silence at the craziness and lies being unleashed upon me.  I will continue to struggle with finding that path of confidence and rationality between the field of passivity on one side and histrionics on the other.  I thank my two friends for helping me see that just because you can say things, it doesn’t mean that you should.

How do you argue?  Are there ways you wish you were better or different when it comes to arguing?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2010 12:56 pm

    When I was young, I always argued loud and long in defense of my actions or opinions or whatever.

    As I get older, I am learning that more often than not, it is just wiser (safer, easier, less stressful)to try to calm the confrontation rather than antagonize it.

    This doesn’t mean that I am afraid to stand up for myself or for what’s right. It only means I choose my battles more wisely (and bite my tongue more often)!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 11, 2010 9:39 pm

      Right on, Cindy! I like your style!

  2. February 13, 2010 5:36 pm

    I am NOT a good at arguing. When I feel like I’m not getting my point across, I tend to try to repeat myself and trying to clarify my point. Sometimes I’ll even just walk away from an argument or say, “then we will have to agree to disagree then, because obviously neither of us is going to give in on the situation.” I wish there was a class I could take on how to argue or how to get what I want out of people. Maybe Dale Carnegie is the way to go? I have no idea!

    • mjjaaska permalink*
      February 15, 2010 7:46 pm

      There definitely are rules to try to follow in conflict resolution; the problem I have is when I follow them and the other person doesn’t. That’s when I get stuck. I think “agreeing to disagree” is a valid way to end an argument if it is clear that one or both parties is not being persuaded to change their stance, as long as both parties have been afforded the opportunity to make their points. People just want to be heard and have their feelings validated, even if it doesn’t change anyone’s mind.

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