Have you ever wished that you could have a better argument with your spouse or partner? Dr. John Gottman, a renowned marriage researcher suggests that you need to focus on how the conversation starts off in order to get a better ending. The saying goes that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. When it comes to having a better argument the opposite holds true.

Dr. Gottman’s research suggests that conversations that start harshly like a lion, rarely end softly like a lamb. Rather his work suggests that a soft or gentle start to communication is more likely to have a softer ending, and perhaps avoid unnecessary conflict.

Here is a comparison of a harsh conversation startup versus a soft conversation startup.

Harsh Startup Soft Startup
Blaming

You always take my stuff!

Complaining

I don’t like when you take my things without asking.

“You” Statements

You never want to spend time with me!

“I” Statements

I would really love if we could plan to go out on a date soon.

Judging

You never help me with the kids!

Describing

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot with the kids today.

General

This place is a mess!

Specific

Could you please put your clean laundry away?

Aggressive

What’s you problem?

Polite

You seem annoyed. I would love to know if something is bothering you.

Entitled

Why don’t you ever…

Appreciative

I loved the way you helped with dinner last week. Do you think you could give me a hand today?

 

Notice how the harsh startups involve blaming and judgements. According to Gottman those harsh statements are more likely to trigger defensive responses from the person you’re trying to communicate with. Instead of hearing the real issue on your heart and mind, they’re more likely to be thinking about how to defend themselves against the blame and judgement. These conversation styles usually end in an argument.

The soft conversation startups are more positive and direct. Gottman suggests that these softer statements are less likely to trigger defensive responses from our listening partner, increasing the likelihood that our needs and wants will be heard.

There is of course no magic pill for avoiding an argument, however these strategies by Dr. John Gottman will certainly get you headed in the right direction.