Last summer I read How To Win Friends and Influence People, a classic by Dale Carnegie (which I talked about in my July Recommended Reads post.) A lot of the book talks about things that you know are true, but sort of forget to put into practice. (And by “you,” I mean me, of course.)

HTWFAIP starts out in a pretty radical fashion, however, by claiming that it is pointless to criticize anyone for anything. In a later chapter, “You Can’t Win an Argument,” Carnegie explains why he thinks that “The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.” I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately.

Mr Donovan and I rarely fight, and we have gotten much better about working through disagreements. We have a rule that you can’t broaden the scope of the discussion by bringing up past stuff, i.e. “not only did you do this thing I object to, but you did something similar to this eight months ago.”

As I mentioned in my “secrets to a happy marriage” post, when we both have hurt feelings, we often postpone talking about it at all until we’re calmer. At that point, it’s more of a talk than an argument.

I used to argue on Facebook and in other places online, and now I almost never do. With a new year almost upon us, I’m vowing to stop altogether. When has anyone on the internet ever convinced me of a different opinion? Maybe twice in my whole life? Those are terrible odds.

While I’m at it, I’m putting a moratorium on political posts and tweets, unless there’s a big positive thing I want to cheer about (the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, for example). I get upset about certain issues, but let’s face it: lecturing my Facebook friends is a poor excuse for action, such as writing to my Congressperson or donating to a cause I believe in.

Sometimes I’ve gotten into personal arguments on Facebook because I’m defending someone else. It goes like this:

1. My FB friend posts something.
2. One of their FB friends says something derogatory about this post.
3. I show up and tell their FB friend that they’re being mean.

A better way to handle it, though, is this:

1. My FB friend posts something.
2. One of their FB friends says something derogatory about this post.
3. Ignoring the other person, I tell my FB friend their post is awesome.

In FB private groups (I belong to approximately one thousand), I’ve successfully avoided arguments by preemptively blocking people. Lots of people only block someone as a last resort, after they’ve been hurt or harangued by the individual. If I see right away that someone is disrespectful to others or loves to sow discord, I block that person and save myself the trouble.

Inevitably, I hear about awful drama the person causes later, but I’m not sucked up into it. (Just this morning I heard about another instance of this.)

There are a few situations in which I still think it makes sense to confront a person directly. If someone around me says something racist, for instance, I call them on it (even if she’s a stranger in the locker room.) In a situation like this, I only have two choices.  I can make it seem like it’s fine and normal to say such things, or I can make it clear that it’s unacceptable. I choose the latter.

But about 99% of the time, I think avoiding outright arguments is the way to go. Persuasion is fine, but fighting just makes everyone feel bad.

What do you think? How do you deal with arguing, online and in real life?