Handling Arguments Gracefully and Productively in a Meeting


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People spend so much time arguing about different things. Arguments are unavoidable in group conversations and meetings because everyone has their own set of thoughts and opinions. Although this will enliven the conversation at times, it often becomes a hindrance in a team’s progress. These tips can help you go a long way in handling arguments.

There are two separate underlying reasons for arguments in meetings:

  1. Arguments caused by differences in professional opinions. This occurs when the outcome of the issue is very important or the decision being made is irrevocable. It also happens when the effect of the decision will drastically affect the group.
  1. Arguments caused by people’s feelings towards each other. This can also happen when people feel that their position within the company or team is threatened.

The Right Way to Handle an Argument

1. Prepare a tightly structured meeting. Doing this will minimize the chances for individuals to start arguing and raising irrelevant issues. Send the meeting’s agenda in advance and start the meeting by asking for the group’s approval of the agenda. Be aware of the atmosphere and dynamics of the participants. You should also state the rules of the meeting in advance; and strictly managed and enforce these rules.Helpful rules include:

  • Alloting a specific time for each topic
  • Putting up a voting system for problems where the group can’t reach an agreement
  • Banning sarcasm or unecessary comments

2. Learn to spot potential source of arguments early. The first signs are the expressions and body language of the attendees. If the cause of the argument is professional differences, allow everyone concerned to make his point. It is better to allow participants to voice out their disagreement at the onset, so that issues can be resolved in the process of discussion.

3. Emphasise with the people opposing your ideas by echoing their statements. This doesn’t mean that you need to agree with what the other person is saying, it only suggests that you validate his feelings by saying it back. You don’t even have to apologize for anything- just echo their emotions. For instance, if one of your subordinates says, “I don’t like the way you distribute the workload to us.” For this, you can just say, “Okay, you don’t like the way I distribute the tasks.” This technique works well to soothe kids having tantrums, and it works well for working adults, too!

4. Divert people’s attention by switching the focus away from their emotions and arguments. Encourage them to provide information and suggestions on how to solve the problem. You can do this by asking carefully formulated self help questions. Open-ended questions that ask people to give lots of details work, such as “If you were in charge, how would you divide the tasks to everyone?”

5. Eliminate any perceived threats. Some people are afraid that the issue will damage their credibility, judgment, opportunity of leading a successful project, or the prospect of getting a bonus. To avoid conflicts arising from this, you should clearly state what will, and will not be affected, by the outcome of the discussion.

You can handle arguments garcefully in a conversation or meeting by following these simple self help tips. This will create a win-win situation for all of the people involved.

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Paul Bailey

Paul is a highly experienced Business Coach, Mentor and Personal Development Specialist. He works with people to enhance business and personal performance through a process of supported self-awareness and self- development. Paul is the Co-Author of the book 80 Tips.