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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 l.jpg

Argumentativeness and Verbal Aggressiveness

Two orientations toward arguing

Argumentativeness l.jpg

  • 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

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  • 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

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  • 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.”

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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.

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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

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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”

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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.

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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

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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

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  • 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

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application to interpersonal communication

Adaptable roommate

Obstinate roommate

High argumentatives



Moderate argumentatives



p < .01

Low argumentatives



p < .025

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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

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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

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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.