How often do you find yourself stuck in a pointless debate, disagreeing with someone over something that doesn’t matter? Or maybe it does matter, and you just can’t make any headway. What do you do? Here are some tips to keep you centered in the heat of the moment….

Let go of the need to be right. Arguments are never about “what is” –reality is mostly subjective. Arguments are always about conflicting beliefs and values – or some form of misunderstanding. This makes the idea of right and wrong pretty meaningless.

Once you let go of the need to prove yourself right, things can finally get interesting. You can ask questions to discover what the other person believes and values. When you ask the right questions, and the other is willing to answer them honestly, you’ll find the source of your disagreement. Any misunderstandings will sort themselves out, and differences in values or beliefs will become clear. The key is to approach the issue (and the person) with curiosity and respect, rather than trying to change someone’s mind.

Know when to stop. It sounds a bit like drinking, doesn’t it? Well, arguing can be addictive. Is the discussion worthwhile? Are you able to choose curiosity and respect over ego? If not, consider taking a break – or ending the discussion. If you’ve made the shift, but the other appears determined to make you wrong, is this really good for anyone? If agreement is all that will satisfy one or both of you – and you’re not going to get it – what’s the point?

Know what matters. How important is this issue? If you and an acquaintance are disagreeing about politics, does it really matter how misguided – or just plain insensitive – she is? If your friend appears insensitive, and that’s not how you see your friend, then you might want to learn more. Asking questions will help you to better understand someone important to you. But if it’s just an acquaintance, or someone you’ve just met at a party, why not agree to disagree? Or, if you’re curious (or just bored!), you could ask a lot of questions. Turn the argument into an interview. Do it properly and the conflict will vanish. People love to be interviewed!

Turn a potential loss into an opportunity. Let’s say that the issue at stake matters to you. Your boss has just cut your budget, refused your leave or overruled an important decision about a client. Instead of trying to change your boss’s mind or find a way around the decision, use the interview technique. Ask questions to uncover the beliefs, values and circumstances behind the decision. Let go of getting what you want long enough to find out what your boss wants. Then – and only then – see if there’s a way for everyone to be happy. Even if there isn’t, at least you’ll understand why. That usually helps.

Being right comes at a price. Someone has to be wrong, and your relationship suffers. Letting go of all that turns potential conflicts into opportunities: to learn, to build relationships, or to walk away from negativity. Once you let go of winning, it’s impossible to lose.

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