How to Defuse an Argument

At some point, most people have been involved in a flaming row: each of you is convinced the other is wrong, and neither of you will back down. You've tried everything—ironclad logic, tearful manipulations, shouting louder and longer than the other person—and neither side will budge. So, what can we do to defuse an argument? It's easy: start by calming down and listening.


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    Calm down. People's higher reasoning abilities shut down when they're angry. If either you or the other person is hot with anger, take a few minutes of quiet to cool off—half an hour or more if necessary.
    • Say "I'm too upset to discuss this right now. Let's meet again in half an hour."
    • During that time, relax.[1]Breathe deeply. Don't ruminate or stoke your anger. Better to take a walk and clear your mind. If you must think ahead about the conversation, try to empathize, or think of how you might word what you need to say in the following steps.
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    Listen. Find out what the other person wants you to hear. You don't have to agree with it. Many arguments go on unpleasantly and without progress because each side is trying to be heard but neither side is listening. By listening, you break the deadlock.
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    Confirm your understanding. Summarize your understanding of the other person's position, by stating it in your own words, and ask if your understanding is accurate. "Let's see if I understand you correctly. Are you saying ...?" By switching from establishing which side is right, to accurately understanding the other side, you defuse the struggle to "force a verdict". You create an opportunity to correct misunderstanding, and if you do understand correctly, the other person now sees this.
    • Making an honest effort to understand shows good faith. The heat of an argument often derives from each party's doubting that the other is acting in good faith.
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    Confirm that you have been understood. Now, ask the other person if they would be willing to summarize your position. If they can't, or they haven't heard it yet, ask if they would be willing to listen to what you have to say now.
    • Phrase your request in a way that avoids blaming or shaming the other person for misunderstanding you. You can do this by wording it so you are the one responsible for communicating your point, rather than making the other person responsible for understanding you. For example, say "I'd like to make sure that I've gotten my point across" rather than "I'd like to make sure you haven't misunderstood."
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    Identify the points where you already agree. After listening and confirming understanding, most arguments dissolve right then: there was no actual disagreement. If there is still disagreement, though, take a moment to list the main points where you already agree. For example, if it's an argument about who should take out the trash, take a moment to see that you both already agree that you each want the house to be clean, and you each want chores distributed fairly. You would not be having an argument if there were not some underlying agreement.
    • If parts of what the other person has said have moved you to change your mind, now is a good time to say so. If they have enlightened you or corrected an error of yours, thank them.
    • Don't use agreement on these other points as a tactic to logically "checkmate" the other person into admitting they were wrong. That's the kind of tactic that keeps the argument burning. Genuine agreement will come, when and if it comes. It can't be forced.
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    State the disagreement. Now that you have clarity about each other's position and you know where you already agree, take a moment to put the point where you disagree into words. Many arguments go on fruitlessly because neither side even knows what the argument is about!
    • When you put the disagreement into words, either you will both agree very quickly on what the disagreement is, or you won't. If the latter, you open up an opportunity to hear something important that you haven't heard yet. Or perhaps you will discover that there is no actual disagreement.
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    Consider your options. What can you do to resolve the disagreement? Some often-applicable options are:
    • If it's a disagreement about who should do some work (for example, taking out the trash), options are other ways to divide up jobs between you. You may find a way of allocating jobs that you both find more enjoyable. You simply have to negotiate and compromise.[2]
    • If it's a disagreement about who gets to use a limited resource (for example, who gets to watch TV right now, or whether there should be quiet or loud music right now), options include: scheduling use of the resource so you both get to enjoy it, finding a way to use it that you both enjoy simultaneously, going your separate ways.
    • If it's a disagreement about how to do something (for example, what color to paint the living room, how to word a sentence in an article you are collaborating on), options include: trying out both approaches and then seeing how you like them, exploring compromises that use the best of both ideas, looking for entirely different approaches, giving one person control over one part of the project and another person control over another, or simply giving in if you don't think it's worth fighting over.
    • If it's a disagreement about whether a plan will work (for example, whether a business idea is worth investing in), some options are: exploring small ways to try out the plan to see if it's feasible, or having the person who believes in the plan go ahead but without help from the person who doesn't (and reaping all the rewards if the plan is successful).
    • If it's a disagreement about what is true (for example, did O.J. do it, or what's wrong with your car, or whether God exists), likely options include thinking of ways to put the proposition to a test, new facts to check out, or simply letting the disagreement go unresolved—"agree to disagree".
    • An option that is often fruitful is to delay in order to let your mind work on the disagreement. Now that you have each heard the other and understand the disagreement clearly, your mind has new material to work on, and this may take some time.
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    Decide how to decide. By now, you've probably resolved the disagreement. If not, then agree on a plan for how to resolve it. You might go to a third party, flip a coin, meet again the next day after thinking, check out some facts that you think will settle the matter. Agreeing to a way of deciding is often easier than resolving the disagreement directly. You can both agree right now that the way of deciding is fair.
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    Celebrate! You started angry over what looked like an insoluble stalemate, you heard each other, and you broke the logjam. This calls for a ritual to mark your shared success: a laugh, if it was only a silly misunderstanding, or perhaps a handshake or a drink.


  • Let go of being "right". Wanting to be right in an argument is the surest way to keep it going. People will argue about who's right and who's wrong for years if they don't decide to do something else with their energy. It's a no-win situation. There's an old saying: "Would you rather be right, or be happy?" Be humble.
  • Forgive. If there is anything the person did to upset or offend you, openly forgive them, even if they didn't apologize. Example: "Look, I was upset that you came over without calling first, because I thought it was rude. But I trust that you weren't trying to be rude, and maybe you just forgot to call, and I'll assume you'll call next time. Okay?"
  • Shift the focus to something positive. Suggest doing an activity you both enjoy together. At first, it might feel unnatural, but that's residual anger...let it go. Cheer up and before you know it, the argument will be water under the bridge.
  • Practice nonviolent communication. Empathize with the other person's feelings and share your own, explicitly identify the underlying needs that you are each trying to fulfill, and then request what you would like the other person to do. This shifts the conversation from "who's right and who's wrong" or demanding that the other person back down, to getting what you each really want.
  • Apologize. If there's anything you can possibly be sorry for, apologize for it. Even if you didn't do anything wrong, you can apologize for the way your actions or words affected someone. Sometimes an apology is enough to disarm a person's ego or frustration, or was what the person was looking for all along. Many times, an argument will fizzle as soon as a sincere apology is given.
  • Read the tactics in wikiHow's Stop an Argument in Thirty Seconds to try to finish an argument quickly.
  • If the other person raises their voice, a good tactic is to ask them "Why are you yelling?" It makes take a second and shift their focus to self-perception, perhaps asking themselves, "Why am I yelling?" It will allow the conversation to proceed more smoothly.
  • Consider the personality of the person that you're arguing with when choosing what to say to calm them down.


  • Avoid extreme words that suggest lack of maneuvering or paint an unjustifiable generalization. Words such as “always” or “never” are usually not true and using them can amplify the anger and cause the situation to worsen.
  • Don't belittle the other person, or ridicule his or her opinion. Mockery isn't constructive, most people will simply resort to using the same kind of verbal weapons against you!
  • Some people may just want to pick fights, or engage in an argument. Recognize when this is the case, and walk away.
  • The quickest way to end any argument is to simply agree with the other person even if you don't. If you don't desire any further relationship with that person, that may be fine. However, fake agreement is acting in bad faith. In a relationship, fake agreement can be an avoidance tactic, especially if the issue is crucial to the relationship. It's disrespectful and plants the seeds of resentment—your own resentment, because you're not getting your needs met. If you have arrived at a stalemate situation, one way to bring it to close is to say "This is how I feel about the situation right now. You can either accept it or be upset about it, but I am not arguing about it anymore."

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