Facts for Living: Address the hidden issues behind an argument

By Rebecca McFarland
Frontier Extension District Agent

In my last article about communication challenges and developing skills to address the challenges, I included information about complaining the right way.

080714-facts-for-living1Many of our arguments start over something small. Something just pushes our button and sets us off, like a volcano. Even though the argument started over something small, under the surface there is sometimes a lot more going on. Many people have problem areas or issues with people whom they are really close to. But, most people aren’t very good about sitting down and talking through their issues with one another. Instead, something happens that leads to a deeper argument. The problem or deeper issue you’ve never really addressed very well has been generating heat and pressure under the surface. It doesn’t take much for the volcano to erupt. Some problems or issues under the surface might be:

  • Feeling like somebody doesn’t respect you.
  • Feeling that you can’t trust a person because they always seem unreliable or irresponsible.
  • Feeling like you are being discriminated against – they don’t accept you, recognize your qualities, or appreciate what you’ve done right.
  • Feeling the other person is controlling and not treating you equally.
  • Feeling uncared for, taken for granted.
  • Feeling you have different values and priorities in life that you haven’t discussed.

So, how do you get a handle on this? First, when an event happens and you “erupt like a volcano”, try not to talk about the bigger or deeper issue while you are infuriated. Take a time out. Remember you are not operating in your clear-thinking smart brain when you’re angry. You can briefly express your frustration and voice your complaint over the event, “I’m really angry because … but I’m too upset to talk about it now. But, pledge to come back later to talk about the issue or problem when you are calm. When you do talk about it, use the speaker-listener technique to keep the conversation calm and safe. When you do come back, do not argue about who said what (“I did not say that! You did too.”) That will get you nowhere. Instead, talk about what you meant or intended, how it felt, why it bothers you, what you need and what your concerns are. Although these deeper issues are hard to talk about, when people do talk it can bring them closer together.

So, how do you solve the problem? First, have a good discussion about the problem or issue so you understand what’s going on with the other person. This discussion helps you understand the perspective and concerns of the other person and they can understand yours. Many times a person is clueless as to what is motivating another person, what’s bugging them, what they want or what their concern is.

Secondly, brainstorm all possible solutions. When you brainstorm, list all possible ideas and the only rule is, no value judgments can be made on the ideas presented. Once you’ve brainstormed, eliminate the ideas that are, “no way!” for either person and move toward a mutually agreeable solution. Once you’ve tried the agreed upon solution for a certain amount of time, see how it’s working for both parties involved. Sometimes you have to modify the solution if it’s not working.


McFarland_RebeccaRebecca McFarland is the Frontier Extension District family and child development agent. For more information, she can be contacted at Frontier Extension’s Ottawa office, 1418 S. Main, Suite 2, Ottawa, KS 66067, or call 785-229-3520, or email [email protected].

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