Are you arguing or negotiating?

There are some people who think arguing is the same as negotiating. It is not. Let’s start with the dictionary definitions from Merriam-Webster:

To argue: a) to give reasons for or against something or b) to contend or disagree in words

To negotiate: a) to deal with (some matter or affair that requires ability for its successful handling) or b) to arrange for or bring about through conference, discussion, and compromise.

The differences are clear. When you argue, you are simply sharing your point of view, generally in disagreement with the other party. When you negotiate, you are attempting to reach a solution to any difference with the other party.

Peter Bregman writes that arguing is a waste of time in the article “Arguing is Pointless” on the Harvard Business Review website. He says:

Arguing achieves a predictable outcome: it solidifies each person’s stance. Which, of course, is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with the argument in the first place. It also wastes time and deteriorates relationships.

Presumably, when you are arguing with someone, you are trying to change their mind about the subject at hand. But as Bregman says, when you are trying so hard to do something you are not listening to the other party.

Because listening has the opposite effect of arguing. Arguing closes people down. Listening slows them down. And then it opens them up. When someone feels heard, he relaxes. He feels generous. And he becomes more interested in hearing you.

That’s when you have a shot of doing the impossible: changing that person’s mind. And maybe your own. Because listening, not arguing, is the best way to shift a perspective.

Next time you are arguing with someone, start thinking about negotiating with him or her instead. With negotiation, you find common ground. You seek for a place where you both can agree. You listen to each other and try to find resolution to your differences. When you argue, you are just listening to yourself express your opinion. The other party is probably not listening to a word you are saying.

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