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Fact Sheet

Resolving an argument or disagreement


Why do people argue?

It is normal to argue or disagree with people. Everyone experiences some conflict in their life. Conflict can occur between friends, family and couples. It can also occur between you and your teachers, co-workers or even someone you barely know.

Disagreements or conflicts with people you see regularly, or those you are closest to, can turn into an uncomfortable and even, stressful experience. Resolving this kind of conflict or disagreement isn’t always an easy thing to do.

Conflict or disagreements with people you know can arise for any number of reasons. Here are a few:

  • You may be having trouble understanding someone else’s perspective on an issue;
  • You might feel that your point of view or perspective isn’t be heard or considered;
  • You may have different beliefs and values than someone else;
  • Your needs may conflict with someone else’s needs;
  • You may not be happy about how someone is treating you;
  • You may be feeling stressed or angry about something and that causes you to be confrontational.

How to resolve your differences: approach the person first

Talking to the person about your disagreement can be helpful as long as it is done in a mutually respectful manner. Make sure it is done in a constructive way by thinking about the points you want to express. Approaching the person is more often effective if you are calm and not angry. How you discuss your differences will be very important to come to a conclusion that all parties will feel happy about. You might want to try some of these strategies.

Allocate time to talk. It can be easy to get back into an argument while you are trying to resolve it. It is also not a good idea to spring the discussion on the other person. Tell them calmly that you want to talk to them about the disagreement. Perhaps you could talk to them over the phone or send an email. You both might even prefer to write down your point of view so you both can read it and think about what the other has said. You can then come together and discuss the disagreement and both points of view. Remember, there is a possibility that the other person might not want to talk about it. Writing down your point of view and how you feel might be helpful to you but you have to prepared that the other person might not want to discuss the conflict with you.

Gain an understanding of each other’s perspective. To help understand why the disagreement started, it may help to ask questions about their point of view. It is important to make sure that when you are listening to the other person’s perspective; you are actually listening and not adding your opinion. You will have the opportunity to tell your side. When it is your turn, nicely remind the other person that you gave them the space and time to tell their side of it and it is now your time.

Explain how you feel. When you talk to the person, tell them how you feel - this is different and in addition to your perspective or point of view. You can try to explain how you feel as a result of their opinion (e.g. “I felt that you wouldn’t hear me out” or “You made a judgment about me”). Try not to blame them or make statements about their perception of the problem. This should be about how you felt. Give them the opportunity to tell you how they felt too.

Use a mediator. You may need someone else to help you resolve the disagreement. Asking another person to act as a mediator can help you both get another perspective on the disagreement. It is important that this person is neutral in both of your eyes (e.g. having your boyfriend mediate a conflict with your best friend might not be the best option). Anyone can act as a mediator including friends, a counselor, a supervisor or a psychologist.

Conflict with someone at work or at school. If you have a disagreement with someone you work with and you feel that you cannot resolve your differences together, you might need to contact your human resources department for the procedures to resolve the issue. They may tell you to discuss the matter with your supervisor or they may handle the conflict. Each employer is different on how they handle conflicts for employees. If you have a conflict with someone at school who may have a higher status than you (e.g. a professor, school administrator or teaching assistant), there are usually counselors or ombudsman that can help you resolve these conflicts.

Agree to disagree. Resolving a conflict should not be seen as a contest to see who won or who was right or wrong. Even after taking steps to resolve a conflict, you might not still be able to agree. If the person you are in this conflict with is an important person to you and their relationship with you is one you want to keep, it is okay to agree to disagree on this issue.


Last Reviewed: July 10, 2009

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