We’ve all been there. He says something, so she says something back. Then he says something back, to which she yells something back, then he says, “Why are you yelling?” To which she yells, “Because you’re impossible!”
Sound familiar? What’s some of the most common advice for not fighting with someone?
Listen first, speak second. Or, seek first to understand the other person, not to make the other person understand. How exactly do we do that? Especially when it seems like the other person is attacking us? We’ve all heard the advice, but who actually does that in the heat of an argument?
I’ll tell you who. The people who don’t argue. They discuss. They listen. They validate. It’s so hard to do that, though, don’t you agree? When our spouse, for example, says something in “fightin’ words”, we’re ready to fight back! After all, we know them better than anybody, so we know what they mean when they say something.
Or do we?
For example, the husband says, “Why did you have to take so long at the grocery store?” His tone is angry, so the wife says something snarky like, “Oh, I’m sorry your highness, did I leave you alone too long while I shopped for food for our family?” To which he says, “Whatever, you don’t understand me!” To which she shouts, “Well forgive me for wanting to shop alone for a whole hour! You don’t understand ME!” The wife is feeling indignant, angry, the audacity of him to give her a hard time for going to the grocery store after she’s been watching the babies all day! The husband is feeling hurt, angry for not being understood. They huff off in different directions not speaking. A brick is laid in the wall between them.
Let’s try this again. Husband says, “Why did you have to take so long at the grocery store?” To which the wife replies in a softened tone, “Tell me more.” He replies, “Well, the baby’s been crying and I don’t know what to do. She doesn’t want her bottle, she doesn’t want to be held, she doesn’t want to be on the floor. I honestly don’t know how you do this all day!” To which she replies with a smile, “You get the hang of it. Sorry. I love you.” To which he replies, “I love you too. I’m glad you’re home.” Validation happens. They feel closer to each other. Love expands.
Tell me more.
There it is, the three simple words to kill an argument. When our instincts tell us to lash back at the person, pause, and say, “Tell me more.” Then wait for them to explain. Continue to use the phrase until you fully understand what the person is saying. Oftentimes, after listening, you’ll find no response is needed. The person just needed to feel heard. When we grant that by listening, we extend love and grace. We strengthen the relationship, instead of building walls.
To listen first, speak second, don’t assume the opening statement is about you. I think that’s a lot of the problem. When someone says something accusatory we immediately assume it’s about us. When, really, it is often about them and something they’re feeling, but they need more time and prompting to be able to explain how they really feel, such as, “tell me more.”
The next time your feathers get ruffled by something someone says, I challenge you to try this instead of lashing back. I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment of a time something like this worked for you.
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Copyright © 2016 Katherine J. Wheeler. All rights reserved.