The past couple of years have popularised the idea of understanding your attachment style, identifying a partner's perceived narcissism or ranking their emotional intelligence. But perhaps one of the most useful patterns in human behaviour that we can apply to our relationships touches on a subject that is inherently fraught: how we argue.
The first thing to establish here is that arguing is perfectly common. Conflict is an inevitable part of life: We are all different and therefore do not all think in the same way or hold the same opinions. But the way in which we argue can drastically change how we communicate and understand one another, which has a knock-on effect on our relationships.
Holly Roberts, a counsellor from the relationship support charity Relate, gives the example of someone who is confident and assertive having an argument with someone who's a bit more introverted. "That kind of argument is always going to end in the introverted person feeling like they've lost because they couldn't express themselves well, while the other person may think they've 'won' but actually it feels like an empty victory."
In scenarios like these, whatever issues you're arguing about are unlikely to be resolved as neither side is able genuinely to put their point across or hear what the other is saying. If the point of arguing is to try and make someone else understand what you feel, then, as Holly explains, "When it becomes argumentative and conflictual the point of the argument is lost, and it's just about he who shouts loudest." This is why understanding the different argument styles can be key to learning how to communicate better and actually argue better (read: in a healthier way).
What are argument styles?
In a workplace or business environment, argument styles are called 'conflict management' styles, according to the Thomas Kilmann model, and fall into five clear camps: competing, avoiding, accommodating, collaborating and compromising. While these have very clear-cut definitions, Beverley Blackman, a UKCP registered psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member, suggests that there are various roles into which people fall in the context of a personal relationship.
"There are a number of different roles that people fall into during arguments, and often this argument style is formed early in life, generally through modelling by parents or other authority figures such as teachers," says Beverley. This role often becomes ingrained and unless we observe how we respond in times of conflict, we often remain unaware of it. While no one has a set role that they adopt all the time, we can loosely identify four main types.