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Gamifying Good Behavior in Arguments

Published or Updated On: 
November 7, 2022

Think of the last time you really had it out with somebody. Yelling, blood boiling, the whole 9 yards. A time where you had words.

You may have said some things you later regretted saying, especially if that person was a family members, spouse, or close friend (arguments often tend to be with those closest to us). At the very least, you’ll probably agree that the situation would’ve gone better if one of you had somehow summoned the willpower to just shut their mouth until everyone had cooled off.

Everyone wants to be good. And when you’re calm and rational, you can hold yourself to a communication standard. You’ve probably had the experience of not saying that retort that popped into your mind, and later being glad that you didn’t.

The problem is “wanting to be good” tends to take a back seat to “explaining why you’re right” when emotions run really high. You care more about thrusting the other person’s grievous injustice into the light than about ensuring you’re playing within good communication boundaries. And enlightening the other person to your Correct Perspective, you end up holding yourself to a lower standard: anywhere from interruptions with a sharp tone all the way to ad hominem shouting and flying dinner plates.

A way to hack this is to think about these situations challenging game: when you are most angry, when the injustice against you is most flagrant & obscene, that’s your greatest opportunity to be virtuous. That is when it’s most important to be silent.

(Note on being silent: precious few can be truly hopping mad and not let it seep into our words, tone, behavior. This advice is for the rest of us. It’s better to just not say anything until you’ve really cooled off).

It is only a small victory, in this game, to act and speak in a way that you’re proud of when the offense is small and your emotions more manageable. It is a much larger win to do this when the offense is big and your emotions are running high.

What happens when you’re able to pull this off? 

  1. The situation defuses.
  2. You don’t later regret what you said.
  3. You likely win credit, later, in the other party’s mind for your durable temperament.
  4. You earn the satisfaction of an impressive level of self mastery.

Here’s to getting some real wins on the scoreboard.

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