When colleagues or friends argue, what do you do? Suddenly you have to watch your step–walking on eggshells, or in the worst case scenarios, it feels like negotiating a minefield. So what do you do? Are you a dashing deer, a terrified tortoise, a tolerant teddy or fix it fox? There is a better way! First, let’s look at the options people usually use when friends argue.

Dashing Deer

You hate arguments. At the first sign of conflict, you head off. You cross the street if you see either of them coming, you make excuses, you’re just so busy now. You really don’t want to get involved. So you avoid both your friends. This response might work if it isn’t a big argument and things blow over. But just when they need a good friend you’re gone…so perhaps not the best strategy to use all the time.

tortoise ignore friends argueTerrified Tortoise

“Argument? What argument?” “Let’s change the subject.”  Either you hate arguments (conflict terrifies you) or you just don’t understand what the fuss is about. Either way, you are just going to ignore the whole thing and hope that things get better. So you just carry on ignoring the argument. Well, that might work if it is a small issue or they prefer others not to get involved. When you are angry, do you find it helpful when people pretend you aren’t? Most people get angrier if they are ignored. Again, just when they need someone to listen, you’re not there.

tolerant teddy when friends argue

Tolerant Teddy

Or are you a tolerant teddy? There with the hugs and the listening ear for both of them. That’s great. But when one starts slagging off the other, what do you do? If you speak up for the other, the one complaining feels you are taking sides. If you don’t, the moaner feels justified and may even tell the other you agree with her. So great for the first stage, not so good as a long term strategy. Tea and sympathy are great, but you might just be helping them get stuck in the wallow of self-pity.

Fix It Fox

If you are a fix it fox, when friends argue, you rush in with good advice and support. “I know a great counsellor.”  “You should send him an apology. I’ll help you write it.” You have lots of experience and are keen to help. The funny thing is, people rarely want you to fix their problems. In fact they may even start arguing with you. We all like helping people but few of us like to be helped.

Should you get involved at all?

Here are 4 areas to consider.

  1. What is the likely result if I don’t get involved? What are the risks if I get involved.
  2. Will they sort it themselves?
  3. What do I need to be aware of?
  4. Am I the right person to do this? Do I feel closer to one than the other? Do I feel strongly about the situation?

Once you’ve answered those questions, it will be easier to work out whether to get involved or not. If you decide to get involved, first make sure that you have your own emotions under control. Plan out your strategy

So What Should You Do When Friends Argue?

“Gee thanks, Nancy, you’ve just told me all the strategies I know are flawed! So what’s left?” Well, you can be a peacemaker.

William Ury in   “The Walk from No to Yes “ talks about the importance of the third side in a conflict. He says

Perhaps the most fundamental way in which the third side can help is to remind the parties of what’s really at stake.

First, ask permission. You could say something like “I notice you and Fred have fallen out. Both of you are good friends and I want to stay friends with you both. Do you want some help sorting things out?” If they say no, leave the offer open.

If they do agree, and you want to stay friends with both, you will need to make it very clear that you won’t take sides.Sometimes, making peace between friends will mean they become more distant with you. So you might want to suggest someone else.  We often find it easier to speak honestly with strangers than with friends, partly because we know we never need to see them again.

Do’s and Dont’s

If you do decide that it needs to be you, suspend judgment and just listen. (Download When I ask you to listen)

Don’t advise, don’t agree just listen.

Once they have emptied their hearts, ask them for their solution to the problem.

Make sure they are clear that you will be doing this with both of them, but will keep the conversations confidential. 

Ask what they miss about the other person, if they have any questions they would like to ask or if there is anything they would like you to share with the other. That is the only thing you can share.

Accept that you cannot fix it, and they need to work things out for themselves. All you can do is hold the space holding-space-for-others and support them in their choices.

It’s really hard when friends argue. If you would like to have a confidential chat about a conflict or an argument that is bothering you, email  help@nancyradford.com