“If you are patient in one moment of anger, you will escape a hundred days of sorrow.” ~Chinese proverb
Ever argue and wonder how it got to where it went? Usually after a heated argument neither party can even agree on how the argument escalated or who said what. That’s because often during times of intense conflict we react from a place within us that is off-center: triggers are pushed and our past conditioning kicks in and takes over. We react to our own feelings instead of the message. The result? The argument intensifies, the resolution seems out of sight and both parties feel worse than before.
Our initial reactions subconsciously arise from feelings based on past conditioning, past relationship patterns and dynamics, our own defenses, insecurities, or sense of inadequacy. Without awareness of this process or the skills to counter it, we fail to address what is being communicated to us. This fuels the argument rather than resolve it, and eventually takes both people to that place that they don’t even know how they got to. The real problem then becomes obscured and thus a solution is almost impossible.
Instead of reacting, we can choose to respond. Responding involves actively listening and a heightened awareness of the triggers and feelings that arise within us during the argument. We must make the conscious choice not to act on those feelings and triggers and in doing so we stop reacting. Then we can be mindful, centered, and choose a real response to the message. This takes a little practice and skill but can quickly diffuse an argument, and often avoid one altogether:
1. Listen with Everything You Have. And That Means Listen!
Don’t interrupt, even if the other person is going on and on. Let them finish, and while they are speaking make eye contact and let them know you hear them. It’s amazing that even after a long, drawn out argument neither person feels really heard, so listen intently.
2. Don’t Take it Personal.
Listen from a place of selfless compassion and don’t take it personal. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Try to discern their message or what they are feeling rather than giving your attention to the reactions and feelings that arise within you as they speak. Granted this takes practice and patience, but it is really key to understanding the message that is being communicated. When we get caught up in what we feel about what the other person is saying we stop really hearing what they are saying. We take it too personal. This can be a challenge when how the other person communicates is offending you. But try to focus on the message rather than on the delivery. If the delivery bothered you, you can choose to address that later if you’d like.
3. Take a Moment Before You Respond.
When the other person finishes, you don’t need to respond right away. Take the time to think of what you would like to say. It’s okay to be silent and thoughtful for a moment. Clear out all those reactions that are based on your own feelings before you speak. When you do decide to speak, make sure you what say includes the following:
4. Address The Message That Was Communicated to You.
Take the time to address what was said rather than addressing your reaction to it or your own personal feelings about it. Not doing so is how arguments spiral out of control: each person in turn is reacting to their own feelings about what the other person has said. Instead respond only to the message that was communicated. This will diffuse the arguement and the other person will know that they were heard and understood.
5. Use Considerate and Empathetic Language
Start your message by stating that you understand. Use language as such “I understand that when…”, “I’m sorry that”…, “I understand that you feel…” etc. Reaffirm their message to them.
6. Own Your Part of the Problem
This doesn’t make you wrong or right. Own what is yours and don’t be afraid to say it. Most arguments are laden with attacks and defenses. Even if you feel attacked, own what is yours. ”I know I tend to leave my wet towels on the bed and I understand that bothers you…” will get you a lot further than defending yourself, making excuses, or explaining why you do what you do. Owning responsibility for your actions doesn’t mean that you don’t also have points to make or things you need heard or understood, but you can only address one person’s feelings at a time.
7. Save Your Own Feelings Until Later
After you address what the other person has said, you may decide that you do indeed need to address how their message made you feel or some other feelings you have. Sometimes their delivery may have been poor and you may feel attacked. Other times there is something else going on and you also want to be heard and understood. Sometimes this may not even be necessary, but if it is, wait until they feel understood and know you’ve responded to them. Make sure of this before you proceed, even if it takes a little time. You’ll know you’re ready to address your feelings when the topic at hand feels diffused and it seems like the conversation could end. Take a moment to think about if what you are about to say is something that you should bring up now or if it can wait until later.
8. When Discussing How You Feel, Use “I” Instead of “You”
Again, choosing your language is important. If your feelings are hurt using terminology like “When you do this, I feel like this” is owning your own feelings and not placing blame for them on someone else. Blame causes others’ defense mechanisms to rise up, so avoid language like “You make me feel like…”. The other person really doesn’t make you feel like anything. Own your own feelings and express them in such a way that others can be mindful of them rather than feeling that they must defend themselves against them. A neat little trick is to try to start every sentence with “I” or if you need to start it with “You” then start it with “When you…” and get the “I” in there as soon as possible.
9. Try to End on an Amicable Note
Sometimes not everything will be resolved, and that’s okay. Things can take time. But as long as both people feel understood, progress can be made in the days to come. Try to explain what you’ve understood and what you’ll do different in the future.