Great leaders know how to handle arguments. Instead of viewing disagreements as a negative, they learn to use conflict as a way to improve.

To do this, they learn the art of how to argue. They listen well, are comfortable admitting they are wrong, and make a real effort to get to the heart of the issue. Become a better leader by adopting these four habits.

1. Listen before speaking.

When someone is angry, giving him time to explain his point of view is crucial. At first, it's tough for you to stop and listen without interrupting with a solution. Next time you're in a situation in which someone is arguing, wait a full three seconds after his or her last sentence to speak. This encourages the person to keep talking, and if you listen, you'll get a better understanding of what the problem is.

It's amazing how much respect you can gain and tension you can remove by coming into any argument and listening. Great leaders build a huge amount of respect by making sure their team members feel respected and valued. The easiest way to do that is to go into any argument knowing that the best thing you can do to start is close your mouth and open your ears.

2. Take the blame and apologize.

Saying "I'm sorry" and "It's my fault" are two of the best ways to get great results from any argument. Often, the person you're arguing with is explaining to you why you did something wrong and he or she did not. For instance, if your product didn't deliver on its promise, your customer could explain why you are the one to blame. In cases like these, once you have allowed the customer to let the steam out, you should immediately say, "I'm sorry--this is my fault." The beauty of this phrase is that it ends the blame game, and helps shift the argument into a productive phase.

This also works well for internal team arguments. When leaders take blame, they build respect and stop damage to relationships among the team. Great leaders make the sacrifice of taking the fault, so they can move the argument to a positive outcome.

3. Ask questions.

The cause of an argument is rarely found at the surface. The challenge is searching through the argument to discover the real root of the issue. Great leaders are exceptional at this because they ask a ridiculous number of questions. Next time you're in an argument, use the rule of five whys. Ask over and over again why this happened, and by the last why, you'll discover where the true issue is. Another benefit is that the person you're arguing with will discover the real problem through this process as well. Now, once you both can agree on the actual issue to solve, it'll be much easier to work together to create a solution.

4. Work together.

Great leaders know how to turn adversaries into allies. A classic tip in any kind of negotiation or argument is to ask the other person, "What do we have to do to come up with a solution together?" When you say this, you go from two parties arguing to two people working together. Once the person you're arguing with starts collaborating with you, it'll become easier to reach a solution. Also, by working together, you both have a say in what the right answer to the argument is. Finally, you give yourself the best chance at reaching an agreement that both of you are happy with.

Published on: Aug 25, 2014