Last week I wrote about speaking authentically. How on earth is a person supposed to remember to speak authentically when they’re in the middle of an argument? Well, that’s the time it’s the most important, so the more you practice when you’re not arguing, the better you’ll be.
Most arguments are little more than two people delivering monologues to each other. Very little listening takes place; and changing this one dynamic can change everything. How can you listen and let the other person know you’re listening?
1. Paraphrase what they’ve just said, and begin with “What I heard you just say is…” You should be able to do this if you’ve been present to what they’re saying.
2. Check to see if you heard them correctly by saying something like, “Did I get that right?” If you didn’t get it right, ask them to clarify it for you.
3. Validate their experience, even if you don’t understand it. This one is confusing for people. You’re not saying that they are right, you are saying, “Given how you see the situation, I can understand you would feel the way you do.”
When it’s time to state your position, try these techniques.
1. Using “I” language; starting an argument with “You” will cause just about anyone to go on the defensive.
2. State your feelings and own them. Instead of saying, “You make me feel…” try this: “I feel … when you do….” Remember, no one can make you feel anything. You are the one responsible for your feelings.
3. Avoid the words “always” and “never.” Instead of saying “You never come home on time,” try this: “I feel …. when you come home late so often.”
4. Don’t have a big BUT. A big but in the middle of what you’re saying will negate everything you’ve just said. For example, “I hear what you’re saying, but I don’t think you’re listening to me” get shortened in the other person’s mind to “I don’t think you’re listening to me.”
At first you may feel awkward and unnatural arguing like this. With some practice, these techniques will become more natural. You may even find that the arguments disappear, replaced with honest, open discussions about how you are each feeling and responding to each other.