Humans 101

How ‘Verbal Aikido’ Can Help You Avoid Stupid Arguments

The everyday martial art of talking to someone who disagrees with you

Don Johnson
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readSep 7, 2020


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Words are powerful. Once we put them out there, we can’t take them back. Expressions like “I didn’t mean to say that” or “I was only kidding” come too late.

So why do couples get into needless arguments? Jeffery S. Smith, MD, writes in Psychology Today:

The cause of arguments and fights is a lack of mutual, empathic understanding. When empathy is not engaged, then people revert to a self-protective mode and become judgmental. The result is a bad feeling on both sides and no happy ending.

People want to be understood, not just heard.

Author Daniel Kahneman’s theory of two different systems of thinking sheds light on why we sometimes lose the ability to be empathetic in our relationships.

Kahneman says System 1 thinking operates quickly, without concentrated effort. It’s more unconscious, irrational, and emotional. We use it when driving a car on an empty road, reading words on a giant billboard, doing something familiar, or something that looks easy, like solving 6+6=?

System 2, on the other hand, involves effort and attention. It’s logical, rational, and conscious. We use it when solving complicated calculations, adjusting our behavior in a social situation, or when searching for a specific person in a crowd.

When faced with familiar and everyday situations, people invent mental shortcuts. If something looks easy, we use System 1, our more unconscious method of thinking. However, depending solely on System 1 can lead to biases toward everyday situations and issues.

This may explain one of the challenges of being in a relationship: We get used to our partner’s thought patterns and behavior; they become familiar and almost predictable. Consequently, it’s easy to go on autopilot and default to System 1 thinking, particularly when we get triggered, frustrated, or stressed. When we’re emotional, we are more apt to make assumptions, jump to conclusions, get defensive, and not listen attentively. Empathy can slip right through our fingers.



Don Johnson
Human Parts

Author | Meditation Teacher | Advocate for Kindness, Respect & Freedom | Human Potential Coach | Connect with me here: