Visit my Facebook page

I post on this blog about twice a month. I post on my facebook page several times a week with tips, appropriate quotes and ways to support your increased assertive behavior. Please visit my facebook page (and please "like" it, if you do)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Learning to Argue with Respect

Recently NPR had an article about how important it is for teens to learn to argue with their parents.  Typically teenage arguments are comprised of screaming, yelling, slamming doors.  I remember when my brother and I were teenagers, he actually threw his shoe through a wall while screaming at my parents.

NPR's piece takes the stand that a teen can learn to negotiate in adult life if his/her parents handle arguing with the teenager well.

I've been watching the five seasons of Friday Night Lights, a wonderfully written and acted TV show that didn't catch on too well with the public.  The show follows the drama of a football coach and his family through five seasons.  In the process Coach Taylor and his wife Tami parent a teenage daughter, Julie.  While Julie has her moments of yelling and slamming doors, for the most part, the interactions between her and her parents are filled with mutual respect.

The respect is there because Coach Taylor and Tami Taylor demonstrate throughout the series one of the best marriages I've ever seen in a TV series.  They disagree, they disappoint each other, but they also fulfill each other and respect each other throughout each interaction.

One of the best examples of a respectful conversation with a teenage daughter occurs in Season Three, Episode 10 - "The Giving Tree."  Julie and Tami have a perfect interaction of a respectful mother and daughter in discussion after Tami discovers that Julie is having sex with her boyfriend.  Coach has an equally respectful conversation with Matt, Julie's boyfriend, in this episode as well.

While modeling respect provides a good foundation for effective arguing, communication skills involved in a respectful argument can be taught as well.

The basic elements of a good argument are mutual respect, good listening, and the ability and willingness to put yourself in the other person's shoes.

  • Mutual Respect:

A relationship which incorporates mutual respect has communication interactions that reflect this.

Sarcasm, contempt, or joking with the goal of poking at the other person are not demonstrative of respect.  The dictionary defines respect as: "having due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others."  Wikipedia says that contempt is the antonym of respect.   When anything other than respect enters communication, then distancing results.

Remember that respect is conveyed not only by the words you choose but also by the tone of voice you use.  Sarcasm, contempt and other distancing can be sensed if your voice tone reflects those emotions.  A caring well-modulated tone of voice will serve well to send a message of respect.

  • Good Listening:
Often in an argument, one is inclined to think of what you want to say next rather than to listen.  Listening well requires that you take your attention out of your own head and focus on what the other person is saying.

An assertive way to demonstrate that one is listening is to say back to the other person what you heard him/her say or your interpretation of what you heard the other person say.

"So I understand from what you say that none of your friends have to be in by midnight."

  • Putting yourself in the other person's shoes
Trying to stay aware of what the other person may feel as he/she speaks and listens during an argument will keep you connected to that person.  Make comments that let the other person know you are trying to understand him/her in the course of the conversation.  Even when you are on opposite sides of the fence, an empathic comment strengthens the connection between you and the person with whom you are arguing.

Example:  "When you said that a curfew is unreasonable, you seemed angry that your dad and I want to set a  limit about how long you can stay out on Friday."

Whatever the topic, try to end the argument on a note of mutual agreement:

"OK, so as I understand what we've talked about, we've agreed that your curfew will be 12:30 rather than midnight and that we'll try this out for a couple of weeks to see how it goes.  Then we'll get back together and see if we need to change anything about this agreement."

Of course these principles of effective, assertive argument apply not only to talking with teenagers but also to conversations in daily life with anyone.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this article! Too bad this isn't read by every teenager and parents! I've been married to my best friend, just shy of 30 years! We have 5 children...our youngest is a Sr. in high school. We taught them they had the right to choose their pathway in life, but one thing...respect! This was and is not an option...for us as parents too! So far (my fingers are crossed) they've all lead wonderful lives! In my opinion, respect for each other, has been the key to our success! I sometime wonder if they came this way from above :) :) :)
Thanks again for such a wonderful article!

SLC, Utah