The End of the Family Argument
I had one of those conversations yesterday. You know what I mean…one that ends in an argument and, when all is said and done, you’re not real sure what the fight was about. Half way into yesterday’s argument I thought, “We agree. Why are we fighting?” Even so, I continued to stress my point and my daughter continued to stress her point. I felt like the mother and daughter in this cell-phone commercial (click here to view) arguing with harsh statements of love. We both walked away frustrated and angry. Other than that, we accomplished nothing. It did make me think though…. How does this happen? And, more importantly, how can I prevent it from happening again?
First (and perhaps the hardest for me to learn), to prevent this from happening again I need to learn how to shut up and listen. We often get into these arguments when one of us believes he has something more important to say than the other person. If you find “yourself repeating yourself” time and time again, perhaps you are in this position. Step back, shut up, and listen…even if you have information of great importance and significance, “shut the mouth and open the ears.” Listen, don’t talk. Listening is the key. Listen to understand what the other person means. Repeat what you believe they mean to make sure you understand. Don’t even think about responding until the other person knows you understand them.
Second, look at the other person. I don’t mean to simply look in their direction. Slow down, soften your gaze, and really see them. What expression is on their face? Do they look angry, frustrated, tired, confused, thoughtful, sad, or hurt? Take time to see their expression. Let that expression sink in. Allow yourself to empathize, to feel their emotion. Respond to that emotion. Apologize if they look angry. Offer comfort if they look hurt. Assure them that you did not intend to arouse negative emotion in them. Gottman calls such statements “repair statements” because they go a long way in repairing the conversation and the relationship. Slow down, look at the other person and gently respond to what you see.
Third, apologize when you mess up. Let’s face it, we all have moments when we end up arguing for no good reason. Maybe you felt a need to save face or prove the other person wrong. Or, maybe you felt so passionate about the topic that you quit listening and said something you feel now regret. Accept responsibility for your actions. Take the time to apologize. Doing so communicates how much you value the other person and your relationship with them. In addition, it moves you one step closer to avoiding the same mistake the next time.
Come to think of it, this all started with me trying to prove my point (a very important point, I might add) to my daughter. I think I’ll go apologize now and find out what she was really trying to say. Happy talking!