Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Throwing Fuel on the Fire

My beautiful wife was kind enough not to call my blog boring, but did suggest I make it shorter and not drone on and on - so here is my attempt at a shorter post.  I'll discuss deescalating and keeping conflict less intense within the context of marriage, but I really believe these three principles are critical in parenting, dating, friendships, etc. as well.  They are Soft Start-ups, Checking, and Accepting Influence and they can make the difference between huge blow-ups and reasonable disagreements.

A Harsh Start-up is anything that initiates a conversation in a way that incites defensiveness in the other person because it starts off as an attack.  Research says women tend to make this mistake more than guys in marriage but also that they initiate the vast majority of communication anyway so it really is just they are the ones that start so more often it is harsh.  If you get that the first 10 seconds of the conversation really sets the tone for the whole conversation then you realize you can kill the whole talk in your opening sentence.  Start off with generic criticism of their character, exasperation, and a harsh tone and they are unlikely to hear anything after it.  Start with a reassurance of how you really feel about them, then give a complaint and it can be heard, start harsh and you will only get defensiveness.

Second is Checking, where you simply choose to not overreact until you are sure you heard what they were trying to communicate.  It is sort of a time-out where you say "It sounded just then like you were saying I purposefully left my socks in the middle of the floor just to anger you, was that what you were trying to say to me?"  Rather than assuming you know what they are really trying to say, give them your interpretation and let them give their real message so that you don't waste emotional energy blowing up at something they didn't actually mean to communicate.

The third is Accepting Influence, where regardless of what is presented to you, being willing to hear it and validate it.  Research shows women are naturally good at this but that men struggle much more - leading to the complaint that we are bad listeners - truth is we hear it, we just swat it away quickly before accepting it.  Maybe it is the fragile egos that take a contrary opinion as disrespect and a threat to our truth, or a fear that if we accept this and go with it then we become weak, controlled, and subservient, but we tend to do it less.  When we throw up a wall it just signals to our spouse that they need to find a way through or around it by jackhammering, sniping, or whatever approach we think will assist in message delivery.  When you respond to anything the other person says with acceptance it disarms them and leads to more conversation.  Rather than blocking and punching it is more like Aikido where you diffuse the other person's energy with redirection, and you become the strongest person in the room because you are teachable and able to grow.  "I can see how you view it that way.  That is totally valid.  I'll definitely try to be more aware of that in the future as I definitely did not mean to hurt you like I did."  Agreeing and validating aren't the same - even if you disagree you can still see it from their perspective and take whatever can be learned to heart so you are better able to communicate how you really feel in the future.

Start with a soft start-up, respond by accepting influence and if it ever threatens to escalate then check it before you wreck it.  The majority of conflict can avoid destructiveness with just these three steps.

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