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Argumentativeness and Verbal Aggressiveness. Two orientations toward arguing. argumentativeness. Definition: “A predisposition to recognize controversial issues, advocate positions, and refute opposing positions” (Infante) Is viewed as a personality trait

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argumentativeness and verbal aggressiveness

Argumentativeness and Verbal Aggressiveness

Two orientations toward arguing

  • Definition: “A predisposition to recognize controversial issues, advocate positions, and refute opposing positions” (Infante)
  • Is viewed as a personality trait
  • Is considered a subset of “assertiveness”
  • Is generally considered to be a positive, constructive trait
argumentativeness continued
  • Assertiveness and argumentativeness are viewed as constructive predispositions
  • Assertiveness includes being forceful, firm, using reasoning to defend personal positions while refuting the positions of adversaries
  • Research has shown that “high argumentatives” are seen as more credible, eloquent, creative, and self-assured
argumentativeness continued4
  • High argumentatives
    • are willing to engage in argument
    • like to discuss controversial issues
    • initiate arguments, express disagreement
  • Low argumentatives
    • dislike arguing, shy away from conflict
    • withdraw from arguments
    • are reluctant to voice disagreement

“I’m not yelling at you, I’m yelling with you.”

a happy medium is the key
a happy medium is the key
  • The idea is to strike a balance
    • Don’t precipitate arguments needlessly
    • Don’t avoid arguments altogether.
  • One’s style of arguing should lie between the two extremes.
verbal aggressiveness
verbal aggressiveness
  • Definition: a predisposition to attack the self-concept of others
  • Is associated with name-calling, the use of threats, and ultimatums, negativity, resentment, and suspicion
  • is generally considered a negative, destructive form of communication
four main causes of aggressiveness
Four main causes of aggressiveness
  • Argumentative skill deficiency
  • Psychopathology (attacking for other unresolved issues)
  • Disdain (expressing hate through verbal attacks)
  • Social learning (modeling behavior)

“I shall now poke a huge hole in your argument”

verbal aggressiveness continued
verbal aggressiveness--continued
  • Verbal aggressiveness is an assault on another’s self concept, rather than his/her position.
  • Individuals who rely on verbal aggressiveness are viewed as less credible, have less satisfying relationships, and resort to physical aggression more often.
more on verbal aggressiveness
more on verbal aggressiveness
  • Consequences of verbal aggression include:
    • lower self-concept, frustration, anxiety, anger, and resentment, embarrassment, physical aggression
  • verbal aggressiveness is viewed as a skill deficiency
    • an individual lacks the verbal skills required to deal with normal disagreements and everyday frustrations
types of verbal aggressiveness
types of verbal aggressiveness
  • name calling, insults, put-downs
  • character attacks, ridicule
  • racial epithets
  • threats, ultimatums
  • nonverbal aggression—rolling the eyes, gritting the teeth, looks of disdain
  • passive-aggressive behavior
  • The two traits are not inversely related (e.g. opposites).
    • an individual can be high in argumentativeness and high in verbal aggressiveness
  • Sex differences in the two traits
    • in general, males are more prone to argumentativeness than females
    • in general, males are more prone to verbal aggressiveness than females
  • Western culture bias in favor of argumentativeness
application to interpersonal communication
application to interpersonal communication

Adaptable roommate

Obstinate roommate

High argumentatives



Moderate argumentatives



p < .01

Low argumentatives



p < .025

managing verbal aggressiveness
Avoid verbal aggressivess: don’t engage people who are known to be verbally aggressive—don’t be an “enabler”

Example: I’m not going to argue with you unless we both have a chance to speak our minds and unless you refrain from insults.”

Be polite: allow the other to speak without interruption, use a calm voice, practice empathy, allow opponent’s to save face

Example: “I can understand why you are so upset. I would be too under the circumstances.”

Define the argument: Make sure everyone agrees on what the issue or point of contention is

Example: “We were arguing about where to spend Thanksgiving, not whether I’m selfish or inconsiderate.”

Example: “Let’s deal with that issue in a minute. I want to get back to what we were just talking about.”

Recognize shifts from constructive to destructive

Example: “I realize you are upset, but that was uncalled for.”

Example: “please don’t shout at me. I can hear you just fine.”

Managing verbal aggressiveness
managing verbal aggressiveness14
Do argue, Don’t attack: focus on the issues not on personalities

Example: “I’m not saying you are selfish or cheap, I’m saying you didn’t pay your share for the dinner, whatever the reason.”

Be aware: Be attentive to the kinds of situations that can trigger aggressiveness:

Win-lose scenarios, personal rejection, “sandbagging” (storing up grievances)

Know when to stop arguing: leave-taking is also a communication skill:

Example: “If you continue to call me names, I’m going to hang up.”

Use a referee: invite a neutral 3rd party to observe a dispute.

People are more likely to be on their good behavior if a 3rd party is present.

Argue in a public place: Go to a Starbucks or some other public place to talk.

Managing verbal aggressiveness
application to intimate relationships
application to intimate relationships
  • “Skill Deficiency Model”: lack of argumentation skills is a catalyst for aggression, violence.
  • Watkins (1982): lack of effective conflict management skills is a major issue in domestic violence
  • Infante, Sabourin, Rudd, & Shannon (1990): violence is most likely to happen in marriages where both spouses have latent hostile dispositions and argumentative skill deficiencies.