Thursday, May 20, 2010

How to Win Every Argument...By Losing

Imagine you’re in a fight with your friend. He’s pissed. Maybe you accidentally ran over his pet ferret. Or had sex with his sister. Maybe he’s just being cranky and taking it out on you.

Regardless of the reasons, if you’re ever in a disagreement with someone there is a secret, ancient trick that will automatically resolve the issue. I learned this trick at my Buddhist meditation class the other night, and it actually works. It will almost always assuage the other person’s emotional fire and create space for everyone’s anger molecules to simmer, allowing forgiveness and understanding to rise up instead.

It’s two simple words. Ready? Say it with me now…

You're. Right.

I know, I know. But, you think, they’re not right! I am! I’m right! I AM RIGHT!

Well, I hate to be the first one to tell you this, but no, actually, you’re not always right. Because, if you are always correct, and everyone else thinks they’re always correct, then who the hell is actually correct? It’s kind of like religion; everyone’s got God on their side, and everyone else is damned…but logically, we know this simply can’t be true.

Obviously the other person in the argument thinks they’re right, just like you do. Isn’t that why you disagree in the first place? But different viewpoints are natural; they add color and fragrance to the carnival of humanity, so we should embrace them, even in the fire pit of a fight. And if we can see the other person’s perspective, just for a millisecond, and acknowledge their side, then we’ve just climbed out of the pit.

We don’t have to agree with them. But we can soothe any tense situation with those two magic words.

I tried this little experiment with my dear, sweet, beautiful, neurotic mother. She was angry that I hadn’t called a job prospect back and she had been nagging me about it. She was calling me for about two days, to which I didn’t respond. She called me repeatedly while I was in class.

When we got a 5-minute break, I called her back in the hallway.

A breathless voice answered the phone, with vocal chords stretched in annoyance like an untuned guitar.

“Why haven’t you called me back?”

“I just did now.” My voice is quick, tinged with cool distance.

“Two days without hearing from you!”

“MOM! I’ve been in class.”

“I called both your roommates to see where you were. Have you called the employer yet?”

“MOM! No, that’s ridiculous.”

We argue about who was more ridiculous until we both hung up bitter and flustered. Later that night, I remembered the trick of accepting defeat that the Buddhist monk taught us.He explained in his gentle, funny manner how we are so obsessed with holding on to our sense of "rightness" it is a very difficult practice to let go and give the glory to the other side, knowing secretly that when we let them win, we win as well, because the argument will be over.

“Hello.” Her voice is strained.

“I just wanted to call you back and let you know you’re right, Mom.” I didn’t mean it, but I pressed the words through my teeth anyway, because I’d rather her not be upset than me be stubborn and prove my point.

Deep exhale on the other end of the receiver. Her voice melted a bit.

“Well, you know you have to stay in touch with these employers, it’s a tough job market out there, it’s really difficult to find jobs and—”

“I know. You’re right.”

In those moments the energy shifted from combativeness on both our parts to understanding. With the argument over we could simply go back to being mother and daughter. And usually, if you can get the other side to soften after you've considered their viewpoint, they’ll reciprocate by considering yours.

So by loosening our precious egos for a minute and giving someone else the glory of “being right”, we can turn any sticky situation into a smooth ride.

Oh, and if you think this blog is just the super coolest, then I will tell you….you’re right.