Have you ever felt like the person you are arguing with is not even speaking the same language as you? Are you having the same argument over and over, without ever solving it? Luckily, there is a pro-trick for getting “unstuck” in any argument.
If you’re reading this blog and are desperate to get “unstuck” in your arguments, flip the script. Instead of going into the argument trying to convince the other person of your point of view, make your goal to fully understand (not necessarily agree) what the other person’s point of view is.
First Step: Optimize your brains
Once we’re all fired up, our brain often goes “offline”. Instead of our brain optimizing our frontal lobe (where most of our good cognitive processing happens), our brains move to other areas that are not optimized for communication or problem solving. In order to get back “online”, you’ll need to take hit the reset button.
If you see yourself, or the person you’re communicating with, getting “offline”, take at least a few minutes to calm down. Take a handful of good conscious deep breaths. Go for a walk. Take a shower. Eat something. Think of this step like turning off your computer and then turning it back on. You need to reboot to optimize your brain properly.
Step Two: Learn about the “active listening” technique
Active listening is a specific process that is designed for all communicators in a conversation to feel heard and understood. There is nothing worse than when you feel like the person you’re communicating with isn’t listening. It’s terribly frustrating when you see the other person tune out during an argument, just waiting until they can make their next point.
With the active listening technique, communicators take turns being the “communicator” or the “listener.” These roles are very different and each member needs to be clear about which role they are playing and what the goal of that role is.
When a person is “the communicator,” it is their job to communicate their own personal thoughts, opinions, views, etc. It’s extremely important to use “I statements” when you’re the communicator. Communicators need to be cautious and conscientious about their specific language. Try to avoid blaming the other person. Instead, try to communicate how YOU see things from your perspective.
Pro Tip: Be vulnerable and talk about your feelings. Often times one, or multiple people, are feeling fearful, attacked, or sad.
When a person is “the listener,” it is their entire job to try to understand the communicator. Instead of piling up a bunch of defenses, tuning out, or getting upset about what the person is saying, the listener needs to be trying to step inside the communicator’s shoes and understand where they’re coming from. The goal is NOT to agree with the communicator but simply to understand how the communicator sees things and then be able to show the communicator that they understand (again, not necessarily agree). If you’re interested in learning about even more listening techniques, I’d recommend reviewing this PsychCentral article.
Pro Tip: Take deep breaths when you’re the listener. You may feel attacked and defensive. You might hear things that you think are untrue or outright lies. Try to keep your brain “online” and focused.
Step Three: Practice Practice Practice
Now that you have the basics down, there is a very specific, step-by-step, process for this type of communication. Follow the format below and you’ll be on your way towards much better communication. Don’t worry if it feels unnatural or awkward at first, that’s normal.
Step 1. Person A (communicator role): Expresses what they are thinking and feeling using “I statements.” This person is trying to avoid attacking the other person but rather trying to express to Person B how they are thinking & feeling about the issue.
Step 2. Person B (listener role): This person listens attentively and attempts to understand exactly how Person A is thinking and feeling. After listening without interruption, Person B repeats back they understood Person A to say. Use the language “What I think you said was…” or “What I heard you just say was…”
Step 3. Person A (communicator role): You have two choices. If you feel that Person B understood what you said initially, say “Yes, that’s correct. You understood me.” If you feel that Person B misunderstood you, respectfully say “No, that’s not exactly it.” Then do your best to repeat what you said calmly and clearly.
**Repeat steps 2 and 3 until Person A can say “Yes, that’s correct”**
**Once Person A can say “Yes, that’s correct. You understood me.,” communicators then switch roles and repeat the process again.**
As I’ve stated above, it’s important to think about the goals of communication. The goal should not necessarily be to change the other person’s mind. The goal for everyone involved should be to try to have the other participants feel like they were heard and understood as well as resolve the argument. If everyone involved is doing their best to make the others feel understood, I guarantee it’ll be a much better experience for everyone.
Christopher J. Koniarczyk is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Winston-Salem, NC. He is the owner of Christopher John Counseling, which specializes in family counseling. If you could use help with communication skills, click here to schedule a free in-person consultation.