Them’s Fightin’ Words: Ways to Tactfully Argue (in Spanish)

I wish I could say that in your time in Spain (or anywhere for that matter) you will never have to deal with a serious argument, or even a not so serious one. But maybe I’m the only one with confrontation issues. Either way there will inevitably be landlord issues, roommate dramas, lovers quarrels, and friend fights, and it’s much better to be well-prepared on how to explain yourself tactfully rather than spitting a stream of curse words that don’t actually get the job done.

Defending yourself is pretty crucial, especially when you’re living abroad and it’s so easy to misconstrue actions and words due to language and cultural barriers.

It might be the Psychology major in me (I mean, it definitely is the Psychology major in me) but I think it’s really important to know the correct WAYS to have an argument. That’s right, not all arguments are made equal. Name calling won’t get you anywhere productive and could hurt your relationship with the person in the long run.

I still remember one specific argument I had with my sister when I was maybe 11 and she was 9. I screamed at her that I wished she was never born and she burst into tears making me feel like a total asshole and totally wishing I could take it back. I don’t know if she even remembers that but I know I’ll never forget it.

As much as I hate confrontation in general, I’ve come to learn that arguments and disagreements not only happen, but are necessary. We obviously don’t want physical brawls to start breaking out… talking it out is much more civilized. But the most difficult part of standing up for yourself while living abroad is doing all of this in a different language (for me, Spanish)! What a total nightmare.

If you’re like me, it’s hard enough to be yourself while speaking Spanish. It’s not as easy to be funny and sarcastic, and if it IS easy for you please share your wisdom!! That being said, in my opinion arguing in a foreign tongue is even more difficult than being funny in a foreign tongue.

It’s a total kick while you’re down to sound stupid while you’re trying to get someone to take you seriously because you can’t find the right words to say. And trust me, having a boyfriend from a small town in Spain who had never experienced another culture before meeting me, I’ve had plenty of silly and serious arguments so I find I’m improving a lot in communicating when I’m angry or upset. The one advantage we have as Spanish learners is that it’s not as easy to fly off the handle. There are definitely times where I react first in really mean words in English, but then have to say it again in Spanish so my boyfriend can actually understand what I’m saying. In the seconds that it takes me to formulate my thoughts in Spanish, lots of mean and unnecessary insults fall by the wayside as I regain a bit of composure.

So here are some helpful phrases and tactics that I use that will turn your next argument into a productive conversation, and hopefully will help resolve your issues so we can get back to drinking beer and eating tapas.

Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements

One of the simplest ways you can rephrase yourself to make your arguments more productive is to use “I” statements rather than “You” statements. For example:

Say:

I feel hurt because every time we’re supposed to meet up I wait for 30-40 minutes and I feel as if my time isn’t important to you.

Rather than:

You are always 30 minutes late and you apparently don’t think that my time is important because you always do this.

Why “I” phrases? It shifts the blame away from the other person and feels less like an attack which means the other person probably won’t get as defensive and you’ll be able to talk it out. When you use lots of “you” statements the other person will feel like you’re blaming them and will probably close you out.

In Spanish I use the phrases:

  • Siento que… (I feel like…)
  • Me parece que… (It seems to me like..)
  • Me he dado cuenta de que… (I’ve realized that…)
  • Me preocupo que (I’m worried that…)

Don’t call names

I know we’re not 7 years old anymore so most of us have gotten past the name-calling stage (you meanie head!!). But rage can unfortunately bring out the worst in us and name calling is definitely one of our less desirable qualities. If you’ve ever found yourself calling someone a hypocrite or even just a straight up asshole to their face, this one is for you. Those words hurt, you can’t take them back, and they don’t really help you because the other person will feel attacked. Try citing a reason that you think the person is a hypocrite rather than calling them a hypocrite… then they’ll be able to see a concrete example of why you’re so upset. For example:

Rather than:

You’re such a hypocrite! You always tell me to be more careful with my spending and then you blow 80€ in one night at the bars!

Try:

I don’t understand. We’ve been talking a lot about saving as much money as possible for our upcoming trip, and spending 80€ in one night definitely doesn’t help us towards our goal.

This one can be tough because it forces you to see past the red and take a second to think about a specific reason why what the person did is pissing you off so much. But the whole point of having an argument in the first place is effectively communicating your feelings so you definitely need to think about why you’re angry and tell the other person!

In Spanish I say:

  • Había pensado que (I’d thought that…)
  • No entiendo por qué  (I don’t undersand why…)
  • Me ha dolido que (It hurt me that…)

Phrase your frustrations as a question, and summarize the answers back

By asking a few genuine questions you can usually get the person to see their actions from your point of view which will help them understand why you’re upset. If they have to answer your question and realize that their answer sounds pretty bad or selfish, it will be a lot more likely that they’ll apologize and change their actions, or at the very least understand why you’re so upset. If you ask a question and then rephrase their answer back to them you’ll both have a better understanding of what is being communicated. For example:

Instead of saying: 

You don’t think about anyone other than yourself.

Try:

Did you think about how that would make me feel?

The above question can be used in a variety of situations and it can at least help the other person realize that what they did affected you too, and it gives you a chance to explain why you’re angry and hopefully figure out a solution so it doesn’t happen again.

In Spanish I say:

  • Pensabas en como sentiría yo sobre eso? (Were you thinking about how I would feel about that?)
  • Hubieras hecho eso si yo estuviera allí? (Would you have done that If I were there?)
  • Como sentirias si yo hubiera hecho eso? (How would you feel if I’d done that?)

Track your period

This might sound silly and is possible an over-share, but this past year I’ve totally felt the effects of my crazy hormones and have definitely realized that there have been times where I was kind of overreacting because I was getting my period. I’ve never been a person who has PMS so I’d never even thought about this being an issue.

A few months ago for my own sanity I downloaded a period tracking app and it’s been totally helpful. This one time I was kind of absurdly upset about something that was out of my and my boyfriend’s control (though I was blaming him) and was hysterically crying and I was like OMG what is wrong with me right now!? I am not like this! And then I looked at my period tracker. Ohhhhh hello, friend.

This may sound kind of stupid and I’m not saying to discount your feelings and blame them on your hormones because there’s got to be some truth to the madness, but it’s definitely helpful to know when there’s a bit of hormonal rage fueling the fire. And then it’s probably time to suck it up and apologize, or at least let the other person know (if appropriate) that you’re a bit hormonal.

  • Lo siento, me esta bajando la regla (I’m sorry, I’m getting my period)
  • Perdon, he reaccionado exageradamente. Hablamos en un rato. (Sorry, I overreacted. Let’s talk in a little while)

In any case, you have to be able to admit when you’re at fault, and most importantly, come up with a solution together with the other person. That’s the whole point of an argument, right? Let your tone of voice reflect your anger without yelling, speak calmly, and your communication will improve and hopefully future incidents can be reduced.

So, do you find these suggestions helpful? How have you successfully argued in Spanish? I’d love to hear your comments!

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6 thoughts on “Them’s Fightin’ Words: Ways to Tactfully Argue (in Spanish)

  1. Great idea for a post! I can definitely relate to how hard it is to express the funny/goofy side of yourself in Spanish…sometimes it feels like my personality just doesn’t translate!! haha soo I can’t even imagine how I would get through an argument in Spanish. I tend to avoid conflict like the plague but I’ve already pissed one person off here in Madrid by calling him out on something he said to me, but perhaps I could have approached it differently and gotten a different reaction. I’ll keep your tips in mind!

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    • Hey, thanks! Yeah it’s so hard to personalities to translate! I’m definitely a conflict avoider too so this has been a particularly challenging area for me. Good luck!!

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  2. Girl this one is so so good! Haha my Spanish definitely deteriorates when I’m pissed, and the resulting laughter is not always appreciated (though it does sometimes make me realize I’m being ridiculous).

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    • Haha thanks girl!! I wonder if I’ll ever be able to argue in Spanish the same way I do in English… maybe one day. Hope you’re both well!

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  3. Damn, I thought you were going to tell us how to chew someone out in Spanish, which I often want to do after the fact. (You know how you always remember the perfect comeback like five minutes later? This is amplified in a foreign language.)

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    • Haha that is SO true. Don’t cross me in the shower after a rough day or I WILL bite your head off. (Isn’t the shower where everyone’s best thinking is done??)

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