One Word to End An Argument And One Word to Make It Worse

“The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.” – Joseph Joubert

This week as I was driving to an appointment with a client, I heard on the radio that it was possible to stop an argument in its tracks by using one simple word.  Can you guess what word it is?  According to Hal Runkel, a marriage and family therapist, couples who use the word “ouch” can communicate to the other person that whatever was said has hurt you and that you are showing your vulnerability.  I thought about how this new piece of knowledge might assist clients with their real estate transactions and am still mulling over this.  However, I have had home sellers in the past say just that – “ouch” when they received a lowball offer, or a time when a buyer received a counter offer much higher than what they were anticipating.  We likely use this word more often than we realize. I honestly thought the word “ouch” was followed by a strong of swear words when you hit your head getting out of the shower, or when you stub your toe.  I did not understand until this week how much power was in 4 little letters.

According to psychologist John Gottman, HOW a couple argues is likely the biggest predictor in whether or not they will stay together.  If disagreements are more to do with criticisms than actual complaints, Gottman believed that the relationship would not last.  This is because you are generalizing about the person’s overall character rather than about a specific action.  Telling someone they are a lazy slob is a criticism, while saying that you are disappointed that they forgot to pick up milk on the way home from work is more of a complaint.

When negotiating in real estate, it is easy to make generalizations about the other side, but often times we may not know what is going on for the client.  It is all too easy to say that they are a moron for not accepting an offer, when in fact, they may not really be that motivated to sell or are needing a specific figure to be able to pay off their mortgage.  This is why most professional agents refrain on commenting on the other agent or client and sticking to what the actual complaint is from their client.  An example might be if a client only wants to pay up to a certain amount but their dates for closing are more flexible.  A realtor might approach the other agent with a scenario that the sellers can choose the dates for closing that work best for them if they can accept a slightly lower price.  Ultimately, it is putting both a buyer and seller on equal footing when a deal comes together so that both sides feel comfortable with the contract.

Research has shown that couples who apologize are more likely to stay together,  Mistakes happen and we are all capable of saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.  What is critical to maintaining a good relationship with someone (whether they are a friend or client), is to accept responsibility when you make a mistake and say “sorry”.  Acknowledging how they feel goes a long way towards a more productive dialogue.  Over-promising and under-delivering can be a pitfall when you are a real estate agent.  Myles and I review the VIREB graph stats, home sales maps and other reference materials so that we can educate our clients about what is really is going on in our real estate market and where it is likely headed.  Relying on salacious headlines such as “homes sales soar 50%” or “homes selling for $50,000 more than ask price” can really detract from what is actually happening.

Do you have a clue about the word that can make an argument worse?  This word may be different for each of us.  Do you have a pet name for your partner or a nickname for your friend?  If you respond to your partner’s complaint by starting it with “baby” or “sweetie” or “babe”, you may just make things WORSE for yourself.  Researchers have discovered that “affectionate communication” is actually ineffective when trying to stop an argument.  In high stakes circumstances, straight-to-the-point communication will result in a more successful outcome than telling your partner  “baby.. come on, just listen to me for a sec”.  When dealing with a counter offer in real estate, it is best to ensure that clients are able to actually see the changes made to an offer by the other party in black and white, rather than simply sharing the info by email or a phone call.  Once a person can see the expectations of another person on paper, it can remove the emotion or sense of confusion for the person.  They can then make an informed decision about whether or not to accept the contract, or to continue to negotiate by responding with their own counter-offer.

What other recommendations do researcher have for winning an argument?  PhD students at Cornell University studied for 2 years posts made on a forum site called – a website that allows people to present their views and challenge the views of others.  They found that the first person who responded to a post was more likely to change the views of the original poster more often than someone who posted later in a thread.  Using calm language (avoiding swear words) and using statistics also were good predictors of a more positive response. Using personal pronouns like “I” or “me” fared much better than inclusive pronouns such as “we” or “us” which came across as being more stubborn.

At the end of the day, I think one of the most important things to deal with an argument is to sometimes just shut up and listen.  Whether or not you agree with someone is less important than how that person feels after they vent to you.  Just make sure you don’t respond with “sweetie, we need to buy the boat for us”.  Chances are, you are going to LOSE and that boat isn’t going to end up in your driveway.

If you are considering selling your home, and would like a FREE comprehensive market evaluation of your property, contact Brian & Myles McCullough today at 250-751-1223 or email us at

We look forward to speaking with you.

Best Regards,
Brian & Myles  McCullough

Related posts

What happened to our justice system

Photo by Amber Kipp Well, for many of us or at least myself, it appears that our justice system...

Continue reading

Grief is the price you pay for having love

Grief is the price you pay for having love. Queen Elizabeth II Last week we lost someone who...

Continue reading

Be thankful for the little things and for all that have helped you along the way

Be thankful for the little things and for all that have helped you along the way His is a...

Continue reading