As summer sinks into silly season, I miss the World Cup. So the soccer stank. There were still delicious spectacles. Yes, Ronaldo’s torso. Better yet was watching spoilt youths rage at referees (presumably ‘No’ is rarely heard if you’re on £100,000 a week). Likewise, wasn’t Alastair Campbell baiting Sky’s Adam Boulton your General Election highlight? Their barney is a YouTube classic not just because Boulton turns a beguiling puce. When public figures expose their unscripted inner Eltons, it satisfies more than Schadenfreude.
Connoisseurship of conflict is a national sport. TV is usually blamed for this. Especially the shouty ‘talk’ shows that serve as televisual espresso on daytime, and soaps where little chats routinely end ‘outside – NOW!’ But such stunted debates differ little (barring vocabulary) from jousts on Newsnight. Broadcasters rig conversations as bouts because disagreement grips audiences as no analysis can – not to mention wakes them for ad breaks.
Everyone loves a ruckus because conflict’s the DNA of drama. Spats have the entertaining qualities of momentum, passion, and clearly differentiated positions. For participants, however, ‘telling it like it is’ can be the worst way to get across views, unless your aim is simply to use each other as scratching posts. (Anyone with sisters knows fights are fun, a perfectly valid end in itself. Why? Because I said so.) The traditional definition of ‘argument’ is ‘proof’, although in everyday speech ‘argument’ usually refers to the activity of debate, not the logical steps to a good point, well made. But let’s suppose you want a good argument, one serving a higher purpose, like reaching a decision. What steps to take?
First, bear in mind that dialogue tends to polarise us so don’t rush; repetition and summaries minimise misunderstanding. Second, note you’re biased to believe arguments confirming your prejudices. As George Bernard Shaw observed: ‘The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.’ Third, remember your tactics may depend on what’s between your legs.
In lovers’ argy-bargy, usually she nags, he stonewalls – largely because men under attack ‘flood’ with stress hormones, taking longer than women cool off. So don’t rely on rows to up your tally of kisses. There are many argument techniques, from breastbeating to changing subject, but two spell relationship death: ignoring and contempt. My advice is listen. You may learn.