Have you ever been involved in an uncomfortable conversation in which you left the interaction feeling an unpleasant mixture of irritation, intrusiveness, guilt, annoyance, nausea and loneliness? Perhaps you were involved in an argument, also known as a debate or sometimes a “discussion.”
Arguments and tend to cause relationship ruptures. They hype up each person’s defense systems and engage their amygdalas, often eliciting hostile and unrefined behaviors that can hurt feelings and cause resentment.
On the other hand, self-disclosures can increase connection and the rewarding sensation of being heard and understood between people. Self-disclosures are paradoxically more likely to create change, because each person’s defenses are down, and they are more open to entertaining new opinions and ideas.
What is the difference between arguing and disclosure? In some ways they are polar opposites. In arguments, there is an attempt to convert the other person to your way of thinking. There is also a tense element of helplessness in the fact that no one can control what another believes. Arguments are judgmental — each person believes (judges) themselves to be right on a specific issue. Disclosures are non-judgmental and accepting of self and others. A disclosure often starts with, “I believe/think … ” rather than “it is…”
The underlying dynamic in disclosures is: let’s share our ideas, no matter how different they may seem.
In arguments, the dynamic is: one of us will end up right and one will be wrong.
In disclosures, there is still room for logic, but there is no rhetoric (attempts at persuasion). I can share the logic that I see in my beliefs without being attached to whether someone else adopts that same logic. I can listen to their logic, and still have space for my beliefs. In the end, their logic may persuade me, but because they gave me a chance to persuade myself, rather than being persuaded — the difference is sometimes subtle.
Disclosures convey respect and conserve dignity and equality. They attempt to bridge chasms. They encourage authenticity and connection. Arguments create hierarchies of right/wrong, up/down, moral/immoral, good/bad.
Arguing attempts to coerce conversion and assimilation. Reciprocal disclosures grow understanding.
Arguing is like smashing rocks together. It takes your energy and converts it into ineffective output. It leaves fatigue and discouragement in its wake. Disclosing is like ice melting in the sun. It takes more time but results in change of state and increase in energy.
If you argue and someone doesn’t allow your beliefs, you don’t know if they are even able to think rationally, because they are in fight mode. So you never quite feel as though you can give up in your quest to convert. On the other hand, if you disclose vulnerably and non-judgmentally and the other responds with rejection, there may be sadness but there is also resolve — you know that you tried and the non-acceptance is about the other person’s relationship with your belief, not with your delivery or behavior. You can then feel peaceful about disengaging from the topic and saving energy for more productive pursuits.