1. Clarify definitions - When something is not clear or you are in a disagreement, clarify definitions. Many times we use a word in a conversation thinking it means the same thing to the other person and it does not. Example: A wife once said “I’m not in love with my husband anymore” in one of our sessions. I asked her to explain what it meant to not be in love with him anymore. She said “I don’t feel connected to him right now.” To the husband it meant something entirely different. To him it meant that she would never love him beyond a friendship level again, which caused him to feel very hurt & defensive. Once he understood the difference in their definitions, he was able to understand her meaning better and admit he felt the same way, which put them on the same page rather than feeling separate. Definitions of words can be very different for each person and it is beneficial to check in from time to time, you’d be surprised what can happen when clarifications take place, it can diffuse an argument right away.
2. Defensiveness - Ask yourself before you respond “Am I starting to defend myself because I feel attacked or triggered by something the other person has said or am I truly hearing their point of view and responding to it without defense?” This one is very important because when people get into the practice of defending themselves each time the someone person says something, they are soon in a verbal ping-pong match and that never solves anything because at some point someone has to lose in ping-pong! It’s important to acknowledge what another person has to say even if you do not agree with it. Example: Wife says to husband he isn’t spending enough quality time with her. If husband starts to defend himself that he is doing it, where has that taken the couple? To a place of going back and forth to decide who is right. Reality is wife has a certain perception of what is enough quality time to her and husband has his own perception as well. The key to this type of situation is negotiation – understanding how much she needs and how much he wants to give and then finding a middle ground so both are happy rather than one person “winning” and being right. This creates a win-win environment for both parties and can be used in all levels of communication.
3. Listening - Really, truly listen to the person speaking. If you catch yourself thinking of your response while the other person is talking, in truth, you are not fully listening, you are simply waiting to get your point across. You can mirror back to someone what you heard being said so as to clarify understanding and then once you get the agreement that you truly heard what was said, you can respond.
4. Taking a Break - If things are getting heated, take a break and come back to it at a later agreed upon time. I hear from people a lot that this feels like they are walking away from a fight when in reality a fight will ensue should the discussion continue at an angry level because when adrenaline is rushing, things are said that cannot be taken back, Ultimately this can cause more damage to the relationship and damper future communication as well as create trust issues. The key here is to come back to it at an agreed upon time rather than simply walk away never to return to the discussion.
5. Start-Up - If things are starting down a bad path right from the start of a conversation, ask what it is that upset the other person and see if it had to do with the initial approach. If so, see how you can modify the approach to have it better received. Some people think the other person is being controlling because of having to re-approach it in a way it can be received. Truth is in order to be in a healthy relationship of any kind, we must consider the way another receives what we are saying and how we are coming across otherwise it becomes about someone just wanting things their way rather than working through and truly relating to their the other person’s wants and needs. If both people do the same in the relationship, it leads to more respect and trust.
6. Empathy - Acknowledge the person in the matter by giving a level of empathy. Giving empathy means truly working to understand another’s experience even if you don’t agree with it, it’s the put yourself in his/her shoes scenario. A key to this is repeating back what you heard and clarifying a true understanding of it and then acknowledging that you understand this is his/her experience. This one is a challenge at times for some people but it is crucial to healthy relationships.
7. Curiosity – come from a place of curiosity. Rather than assuming something based on what you heard, ask further questions. Example: Husband says to wife “I don’t want to pick the kids up today”. Wife initially wants to start a disagreement because he doesn’t want to pick up the kids but she hasn’t gone to a place of trying to understand yet. The starting place is curiosity to understand the reasons first prior to having a reaction. Curiosity alone has prevented many disagreements from happening as one question changed the entire view of the situation.