USING BODY LANGUAGE TO DIFFUSE AN ARGUMENT
Your body language can make an argument easier or harder to resolve. If you missed it, check out our article on body language can make arguments worse.
It ain’t what you say it’s the way that you say it! Although choosing your words carefully is always a good idea — especially if you are arguing with your partner — experts believe that in face-to-face interactions between 50 and 80 percent of communication is non-verbal. Yup! Strangely enough, the words that we use may be the least important part of any message; it’s our intonation and our body language that really tells others what we think and feel. For the most part, these signals are processed subconsciously — we’re rarely aware that we’re reacting to each other’s body language and, unless we’re making a special effort, we don’t know what signals our body is sending out.
In our previous article on body language, we looked at the gestures you should avoid while arguing. Not doing these is a good start, but using body language to diffuse an argument is even better. It’s like having a bag of Jedi mind tricks at your disposal!
First things first! An argument with your partner isn’t a political debate — being right or scoring points is less important than finding a resolution.
Some people love to “win” an argument, but if you want your relationship to remain strong, happy and supportive, feeling like you “won” is a whole lot less important that finding a workable compromise. Some people will continue arguing until they get their way or their partner gives in out if exhaustion. You know what we call those people? Divorced.
Next time you argue consider adopting some reconciliation postures. Reconciliation gestures tell your partner that you are listening to them and are interested and engaged in what they are saying. It can be hard to do this is you feel attacked — we know that. But if both partners make an effort to minimise argumentative body language and use reconciliation gestures, your arguments will be less intense and more easily resolved.
THE THREE GOLDEN RULES
Our Three Golden Rules are the body language posture you should adopt when arguing with your partner. Read, learn, and most importantly, remember!
1. Open body
Crossed arms and legs mean you are close off to what your partner is saying. So do the opposite. Face your partner, don’t cross your arms or legs and keep your palms faced upwards. All these suggest you are receptive to what’s being said.
2. Sit down
Ideally, both of you should sit down when arguing. However, this one is particularly important for men. Their greater height gives them a body language advantage. Height tends to command respect, but it can be a disadvantage. If you are standing up and looming over your partner it can be perceived as threatening, even if you don’t mean to be). Sitting so you are around the same size suggests you see eye-to-eye, whereas lowering your body so that you are smaller is a submissive gesture. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you want to end an argument.
3. Make eye contact
When we are arguing we almost always turn our head away so that we are not looking at our partner. It can feel uncomfortable but try and look your partner in the eyes when you are arguing. It tells him or her that you are listening. What’s more, you are both less likely to say mean spirited things if you are looking directly at each other.
GETTING INTO THE HABIT OF USING THE THREE GOLDEN RULES
Now, we know you are only human, and when you are arguing you are more likely to be concerned about the issue at hand than your body language. However, what you can do is consciously always use the Three Golden Rules whenever you talk to your partner about something serious. If you get into the habit of using the Three Golden Rules when you are not arguing, it is a lot easier to remember to use it when you are. Think of it as your “serious discussion pose.”
Better yet, suggest it to your partner as well. Whenever you want to talk about something important you both adopt this pose. Once it becomes second nature you’ll do it when arguing as well.
Of course, if you are cuddling on the couch watching a movie and the discussion is whether you should have popcorn or biscuits, there’s no need for the Three Golden Rules. Carry on as you were!
OTHER RECONCILIATION GESTURES TO TRY
The Three Golden Rules are your go-to argument pose to help diffuse conflict. However, there are some other body language ideas you can try to.
4. Hold hands
If a heated discussion is beginning to cool off, try reaching out to your partner and holding hands. If you are still in the thick of the conflict, this won’t work and may be perceived as a manipulative gesture to get your partner to agree with you.
If your partner is upset and crying a hug can go along way. Again, you must be sure that your partner is ready for physical contact before reaching out. A hug can certainly diffuse a tense situation but forcing one on someone is a terrible idea.
Let’s say you did wrong. You’ve argued, your partner is upset and you are genuinely sorry. Well, your body language should suggest that. People who are sorry generally slope their shoulders and bow their heads. This posture suggests shame and contrition. There’s no need to slump, but using this pose while apologising is a good idea. However, even if your head is slightly declined, you should still look directly at your partner.