Most of us view an argument as a negative, but actually, disagreement is a vital form of communication. So what’s the key to a successful argument?

Psychologist, Dr Kirsty Miller, believes that having a productive argument is a skill that we need to learn. “Often emotions are involved and it can be difficult to communicate rationally and clearly in these situations. It can be easy to lash out, say things we don’t mean during an argument, and escalate the situation.

“However, by genuinely listening to others’ opinions, we will learn – we may change our minds, we may not, but regardless, we will have heard a different perspective on the world and hopefully become more empathetic.”

Does it need to be an argument?

Relationship expert, Brian Costello explains, “When you have an argument you are explaining your standards and how they are not being met. The only thing that can come out of that experience is change, whether that change is good or bad.

“The first possible resolution is one of the people within the disagreement may change to meet the standards of the other and the relationship will grow. The second option is both parties will change and the relationship will continue to mature and grow. The third and final option is one, or both parties, will walk away because their standards are never going to match and the relationship will end. As you can see in all of these situations change occurs, and for change to happen there needs to be a period of instability.”

So what is the key to a successful argument? Here are your golden rules of fighting fair.

Conflict resolution

Arguements: How to resolve conflict peacefully.
Image: Shutterstock

If you find yourself in an argument, stay calm

If someone is not willing to engage in productive discussion, walk away. Saying something like, ‘let’s discuss this when we’re both feeling calmer’ diffuses the situation by signalling that you want to have a productive discussion. Plus, it avoids putting blame solely on the other person for not being constructive! From raised voices to door slamming, when an argument reaches this level it’s unlikely anything will be resolved.

When a person is so angry they raise their voice, the body is flooded with the stress hormone, cortisol. They are now effectively in flight or fight mode, so it is unlikely to be a constructive conversation.

Intention is key

Do you know what you want to achieve from this disagreement? What is the end goal? For an argument to have any hope of being resolved, it needs to have some way of the disagreement being resolved.


If it’s your way or the highway then many people will choose the highway. Life in relationships is rarely about right and wrong and is often about compromise and agreement. It’s too easy to only see the problem from your perspective, but it’s beneficial if you can step back and see it from the other person’s perspective too.

Try not to project

The other person has their own thoughts and opinions, so by telling them how they think or feel, will send them into battle mode.

Is there a larger issue?

Often if you blow up at a partner for not taking out the bin, it’s because there’s a much deeper issue. Maybe you feel in general that they are not pulling their weight, however, starting full-scale war over a bin that needs emptied, will automatically put you on the back foot, as the person will feel that the crime is not relative to the punishment.

You can only be responsible for your own behaviour

If you go into an argument to try and change someone’s mind your intention may end up having the opposite effect. The end result is likely to be that they are more inclined to resist. Try to accept the only opinion and behaviour you can truly change is your own. Your goal should be to reach a point of mutual understanding with the other person, rather than trying to change their mind.

Show empathy

Be empathetic, even if you don’t agree with their conclusions, show that you understand why they believe what they do.

Do you want to be happy… or right?

Ask yourself at each stage of the argument whether it is worth the disagreement. Often we’re only arguing because we’ve made it about us and we’re unwilling or unable to let go of some small point that we feel strongly about. Ask yourself what’s most important, do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?

With thanks to Brian Costello at, and Psychologist, Dr Kirsty Miller at for their expert advice and comments.

For more health and relationship advice click here.