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There’s a point in an argument at which the arguers lose sight of what the original dispute was about. From then on it is what I call a meta-argument; and argument about an argument, rather than a fight or dispute about whatever the difference was that caused it.

In a meta-argument the disputants attack the way they are fighting, rather than what they are fighting about. The focus will be on things like  tactics (unfair or indecent), character (flawed), history (respective versions of), and relevance (to other arguments).

This is when arguing gets serious. There can be no solution to a meta-argument by doing more of it; it will rumble on, sometimes to the point of not return. But there is a way out:

  • Recognise when the argument has become about winning or destroying the other person, rather than reaching agreement
  • Call a halt, but be sure to explain that you are not walking away from the disagreement – which needs discussing and resolving – but from the WAY you are both going about it (and take responsibility for your part in that)
  • Re-schedule a discussion where you start by agreeing what the dispute is actually about. Use simple language like “We disagree on parenting styles”, “We have different views about how a job should be done”, or “We not happy about ‘X’ and we want ‘Y'”.

If you can agree on what you disagree on, and agree on what matters to you both, you’ll be discussing the ‘how’ of the disagreement, rather than the ‘what’.

This is a great starting point, and as responsible and respectful adults you’ll be able to manage from there on.


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