Most people are not strangers to arguing with a loved one. Altercations occur between family and friends all of the time, you’ve probably even seen a few unpleasant arguments unfold in public. The reasons vary but they tend to play out the same way. There’s usually some trigger that lights the fuse, it sparks and the argument escalates before an unfortunate explosion of anger occurs.
When discussing conflict resolution it is always important to look at our behavior and to understand our patterns, for we are ,after all, creatures of patterns. Whenever you witness an argument you may notice that the focus tends to go from the presenting issue to an eventual all out attack on the other person. It may start with “I was trying to tell you something” and lead to “You never listen to me!”. I see this pattern happen ALL THE TIME. It’s a crescendo of nastiness and you can see it coming a mile away.
So let’s talk about a simple, yet effective way to manage our own behavior in arguments and avoid escalation. During sessions I often preach of “I feel” statements. An “I feel” statement is what it sounds like, a statement that specifically describes how you feel. Nothing more, nothing less. It will often start with “I feel” or “I don’t feel”. You will find that you can usually get your point across using these statements rather than engaging in personal attacks or shifting your focus to the behavior of the other person.
Here’s an example:
Sarah is upset with John because he did not do the laundry like he had promised. Normally the conversation will devolve into…
Sarah – “You never do what I ask of you!”
John – “You always nit pick and never appreciate everything else I do!”.
It’s usually something along those lines.
The alternative outcome using an I feel statement would look more like this:
Sarah – “I feel upset right now because I feel ignored”
John – “I’m sorry, it just slipped my mind”
See the difference? Granted, this is a fictitious situation but I promise it usually plays out something like this.
By turning the attention inward and focusing on the expression of feelings rather than behavior, there is a lot more room for discussion, empathy and understanding. Once someone feels attacked their automatic response is to become defensive. That is less likely to happen if emotions are being discussed rather than personal behavior. The hardest part is remembering to use “I feel” statements when an argument is about to happen, but with practice you can become more self-aware and you can resolve arguments in this manner.
So how do you feel about this strategy?
Pun intended of course.
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