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<xTITLE>In Arguments, Sometimes Progress is a Step Backward</xTITLE>

In Arguments, Sometimes Progress is a Step Backward

by Tammy Lenski
November 2013

  • Tammy Lenski's Conflict Zen Blog

    Tammy Lenski

    When you’re at the edge of the argument cliff, it isn’t courageous to step off. It’s foolishness. Courage is taking your destiny in your hands and backing up.

    Sometimes, as an argument begins to unfold in front of you, you see what is about to happen. You see the cliff in front of you before you take your next step.

    I call this moment your “choice point.” It’s the moment you choose to fight. It’s the moment you can still choose your words with care because you haven’t been emotionally hijacked by the conflict yet. It’s the moment you can choose to step off the cliff and escalate the argument or…step backward.

    When you’re at the edge of a cliff, sometimes progress is a step backward. Someone said this before me but I’ve never found the source of this wisdom. It doesn’t diminish the value of the point.

    We have this notion when we’re fighting that stepping backward is cowardly or shameful or a failure of some kind. But the real failure is stepping off the cliff and plummeting to certain destruction.

    Here are some things you can say when you realize you’re at the edge of a cliff. Adapt them so they sound and feel right coming out of your own mouth.

    • Let’s back up. This conversation took a wrong turn and I want us to get back on track.
    • I think we’re headed into a mess. Let’s back up.
    • I’ve just realized I’ve gotten swept up in a very unhelpful way. Give me a moment so that I can back up and try to get it right.
    • I think this conversation just turned into an argument. I want to turn it back into a conversation. What can we do?
    • My words from a moment ago were unfair and contributed to turning this conversation into an argument. I’d appreciate the chance to step backward and find a better way to respond.


    Dr. Tammy Lenski helps people resolve conflict in ongoing business and personal relationships and bring their "A" game to difficult conversations. Since founding her NH-based conflict resolution firm Myriaccord LLC in 1997, Tammy has worked with individuals and organizations worldwide as a master mediator, executive coach, speaker, and educator. Author of the award-winning book, Making Mediation Your Day Job, she recently received the Association for Conflict Resolution’s prestigious Mary Parker Follett award for innovative and pioneering work in her field. Her second book, The Conflict Pivot, was released in 2014.


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