All families will get into arguments at some point, if not regularly. You are a diverse group of people with different needs and desires all trying to occupy the same space amicably. It is never going to be perfect. So what can you do to ensure that your arguments with your kids or your spouse are aimed at building the relationship and don’t disintegrate into name-calling, shame and blame?


Here is a 6 step process based on the FBI’s Hostage Negotiation Procedure. I figure that if it works for the hardcore criminals it’ll most likely work on your lot too!


STEP ONE: Breathe

I added this step to the FBI routine, as I feel that one of the biggest problems with arguments is that everyone engaged is already in a stressed state and therefore in a state of fight or flight. In this mode, the sympathetic nervous system is at play and all the blood that would normally be in the front part of your brain (used for logic, rationality and problem solving) has been restricted and is now in your hind brain (used for fighting, fleeing and automatic reactions). Nobody is going to have a constructive argument in that mode. So breathe. Make sure that your outbreath is twice as long as your inbreath in order to activate the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest). The success of an argument is not in how it ends, but in how it begins, so ensure that you begin in the right frame of mind.


STEP TWO: Active Listening

What we tend to do in an argument is to jump ahead and try to influence the other person before we’ve even heard their point of view. And if we do listen, it is usually with half an ear while we’re really inside out heads figuring out our counter-argument. Slow down and listen. Really listen. Show that you are listening by saying “yes… uh huh… ok… “etc. Don’t interrupt. Ask open ended questions to clarify what they are saying and to get more information on how they are thinking and feeling.



This step is about showing that you have really listened and understood where they are coming from. Reflect back to them in your own words what you heard them say. Be genuine. If you really know how they feel from personal experience you can let them know.


STEP FOUR: Rapport

Rapport is about creating trust between you – making sure that they know that you feel what they feel and that they can trust you to have their best interests at heart. It is about stepping into their shoes and accepting that they are a different person with a different point of view that to them is just as valid as yours. The easiest way to create rapport is through mirroring. You can mirror what they say by repeating elements of what they said or by paraphrasing what they said so that they KNOW that you have understood it properly. You can also mirror their body language – for example if they have their arms crossed, you can cross yours, or if they have one leg crossed over the other, do the same as if you are a mirror of them. When we are in natural rapport with someone we will naturally mirror them and their movements. Look out for this next time you are having a deep conversation with a friend. When we mirror someone they feel that we are on the same page. Then once you see that they are changing their position when you do, they are then in natural rapport and you can literally change their state of mind by slowly relaxing your body posture and deepening your breathing and they will follow suite.


STEP FIVE: Influence

Only now do you even think about influencing their behavior or point of view. When it comes to influence the goal is to find a win-win solution. Now that you have really listened to what they are saying and know what it is that they want, you can start to put across your point of view. Remember that that is all it is – a point of view. Neither of you is right or wrong, so avoid getting into the blame trap. Always start your sentences with “I”. Say “I feel hurt when you don’t pack the dishwasher because it feels to me like you are disrespecting me”; NOT “You just disrespect me all the time, you don’t care how about helping out around the house”. Nobody can dispute what you feel. In order to find the win-win situation you need to understand what is most important to the other person and what is important to you and then find the middle ground. Is there a way that you can both get what you want? Can you brainstorm it or think outside the box to come up with a new idea? You need to be prepared to compromise at times rather than just focusing on being right. Finding a win-win solution shows respect for the relationship, being right just shows respect for your own ego. It may be satisfying for a moment, but ultimately will destroy your relationship. What is your goal?


STEP SIX: Behavioural Change

Now that everyone is calm and thinking creatively and coming up with solutions rather than more problems, you can put some of your ideas into practice. Most couples argue about the same things over and over again in their relationships and nothing changes. If you follow this simple procedure you can build your relationship and actually implement lasting change that works for both of you. If you’re struggling to come up with solutions, don’t panic. There is nothing wrong with saying to your partner or child that you need to think about it for a day (or more). If everyone feels heard and understood then you can allow some reflection time for both of you to come up with ideas for going forward.


So before you start throwing fists in your family, stop, breathe, listen, get into the other person’s shoes, and come up with solutions that keep everyone growing and learning and loving. Arguing is an inevitable part of life, why not use it to build your relationships?


If you need any assistance in building relationships with your spouse or kids, give me a call!