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Life 101: Four words to stop any argument

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When you have the urge to butt heads with another person, keep calm and use this simple technique to diffuse the situation. PHOTO COURTESY OF PEXELS.COM


“You may be right.”

On their own, these four words don’t seem to be that powerful. However, when used in the heat of an argument, they can work wonders.

Case in point: You’re engaged in a heated argument, and your opponent’s attacking. As with martial arts, you can take the strength of the attack and deflect it.

I’ve seen this technique be successful over and over because it works immediately. And you don’t have to cave in, give up your principles or “roll over.” The statement doesn’t call for concessions. It merely interrupts the pattern of the attacker and proposes the theory that he or she may be right.

When a discussion reaches the argumentative stage, rationale goes out the window. It becomes more about winning the point. When the attacker hears he or she may be right, it takes the heat out of the moment.

You don’t even need to think about whether you’re winning or losing. These four words neutralize the situation. Just think of the countless conversations you hear every day, like the bickering couple in a restaurant. “It was Tuesday.” “No, it was Monday.” “No, it was Tuesday.”

By the time they get around to the story, it’s already lost its impact.

If you go out in public, it’s hard to get away from the mindless back-and-forth sparring. We hear it in lift lines, coffee shops and grocery checkouts.

And, to what end? Often, being right trumps everything. Winner takes all. What have you really won, though? A momentary victory, maybe, but at what cost? Any positive energy that existed earlier has been taken out of the equation, not to mention the toll this can take on a relationship over time.

Whenever you’re being attacked in a discussion, don’t attack back. This can be hard because our internal defense mechanisms automatically kick into gear. If you take the bait, you’ll only escalate the situation, and then it becomes a competition.

Practice listening and resist the urge to feed the fire. Over time—and with practice—this will come more naturally.

Stay focused on the other person and their feelings, not your own. Just don’t take ownership of anything they say. Here’s an example:

Your significant other comes home in a bad mood. He’s had a fight with his boss. He slams things around. You get upset. He gets upset that you’re upset. And the evening goes downhill from there.

The key is to remain calm. Sometimes the best thing to do is give the other person some space. After invoking the four words, you could go into another area of the house and give the situation time to cool down.

No doubt about it, this method takes a lot of practice and patience. While it may not seem fair, just keep your end goal and your sense of self-esteem intact. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you; it’s about them.

Fortunately, in this living laboratory of life, we’re given lots of opportunities to practice.

The object is to defuse an argument so that a respectful discussion can take place at a later time. A calm discussion is the time to consider another person’s views, not when they’re red in the face and shouting at you.

Just carry your personal fire extinguisher with you and remember those four magic words: “You may be right.”

Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a psychological counselor, wellness instructor and Founder of a multistate marketing company. For more information, visit reader comments can be sent to

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