When couples differ they don’t listen. And when they talk, they resort to “you”s, overgeneralizations, and negative comments. They definitely are not abiding by Attitude Reconstruction’s four rules of good communication.
The inability to reconcile differences harmoniously extinguishes love that once burned brightly. It’s not just intimate partnerships that are destroyed by not being able to resolve conflict. Business associates, neighbors, friends, and colleagues are affected as well. In each case we have a choice when conflicts arise. We can fight, give in, deny, and avoid, or we can cooperate, collaborate, negotiate, and accommodate.
Reconciling differences can gracefully happen with commitment to teamwork and by abiding by the four communication rules. Regardless of the situation, the goal is to create a solution that’s workable for everyone and connects, not separates.
Small details or big issues, no matter! Two steps are all you need to
resolve any difference. If you do the first step well, the second will be easy — even fun. This model works for any number of participants. Keep it handy especially when tempers flare and discussions stall.
The Two Steps to Resolve Any Difference
1. Exchange views and needs about a specific issue until all feel understood by alternately talking and listening.
2. Together, find a workable solution that honors all parties.
Step One: Exchange views about a specific issue until all feel understood by alternately talking and listening for a preset amount of time – such as two minute blocks. (A kitchen timer is very helpful.) You’re not looking for a solution here. You’re just explaining what’s true for you about the one specific topic that is on the table. This initial step is called “trading time.” Say everything you need to now because once you go to step two, why you believe what you do is off topic. This first step can be time-consuming so keep at it. It’s a challenge to articulate thoughts so you feel understood by another person.
Keep alternating until neither person has anything more to say. That might mean ten rounds! Although you don’t have to agree when you listen, you must recognize that all positions are equally valid. If communication violations occur (e.g., “you”s, overgeneralizations, unkindness), get out your matador cape. Gently remind the person to speak about himself or herself so you can understand them.
In this process an emotional outburst might occur. If it does, take an agreed-upon amount of time for a breather — a few minutes or even a few days. When you get back together, first address the specific event that triggered your outburst by trading time on that topic. Once the specific event is handled, go back to talking and listening about the original issue.
Understanding each other can be a bit of an issue-maze: as you talk and listen, new topics may emerge. Note them so they can be discussed at a later time, but resist the urge to throw new issues on the table and complicate matters unless you both consider the shift helpful. When each person feels his or her position on the chosen topic is understood by the other, step one is done.
Step Two: Together, find a workable solution that honors all parties.
Integration. Seems like a very synergistic word to use when talking about compromise, but that’s exactly what I’m suggesting. You have to be able to integrate all points of view in step two in order to make it work. Your attention stays exclusively on seeking a suitable agreement. Step two is not the time to revert to espousing your grievances or challenging others, proclaiming who’s right and wrong, or using threats and intimidation. It’s not about rehashing your opinion of what happened in the past or interpreting the other person’s behavior. Relish in this creative dialogue about finding sound solutions that are acceptable to all, right now and for the future. As for what a good agreement looks like, it should combine the ideas of everyone concerned. It does not mean “your way” or “my way,” but some way in the middle. Using the goal of connection as a guide, ask yourself these questions:
• How can we find a middle ground between our differences?
• What is a workable solution?
• Is the position I am proposing, or agreeing to, coming from selfishness or love?
If there are bumps in the road, try adding in “trading tim” to step two. You’ll be surprised by how many alternatives you come up with. Collect every idea and extract the merits and liabilities of each. After listening to all suggestions, brainstorm to find the best blend of positions. Remain open, stay specific, build on each other’s suggestions, and trade time when the discussion gets lopsided. Break big problems down into manageable pieces. Keep talking, and keep listening.
Clamming up like a shell or becoming the loud bully isn’t going to win you any merit points nor compel others to find a happy solution. Focus on teamwork, putting the “we” first and personal desires second. Sometimes surrendering your own wants and needs is necessary for the good of the whole. If you normally give in, consult your intuition before acquiescing to another person’s suggestion. Persist until you arrive at a win-win solution. Workable solutions that honor everyone are possible. If you can’t find one, shelve the topic temporarily and set a specific time to resume the discussion, or bring in a neutral third party.
Once everyone comes to an agreement, it is imperative you honestly accept it, and not back out whenever emotions arise. Be careful not to consent to a solution that doesn’t feel right, or you’ll definitely experience a backlash. If the solution feels correct, you’ll be able to let go of what you sacrificed and deal with your emotions about not getting your way. Avoid keeping score or bringing up your concessions later, either out loud or to yourself, in an insincere attempt at humor. Comments make hair on the back of the neck stand up and don’t reflect acceptance. They indicate you haven’t truly handled your anger about your difference and the solution. If you constructively express your emotions physically, you can accept the best fit for all involved.