As the cameras zoomed in, he started to squirm. When they cut to the close-up, his entire head looked like it was about to explode. He had come on "Dr. Phil" because he wanted to repair his marriage in the aftermath of his affair. But with his personal life displayed out on national television, he did what any normal person would do: He got defensive, and he developed a bad case of the "Yes buts."
"Yes but" is a frequent default response that wreaks havoc on our personal and professional relationships. We use it when we want the other person to know that we heard what they said, but we don't totally agree with it. For example: "Yes, I did that, but you did this," or, "Yes, the IT project is important, but operations is still our top priority." The "but" negates whatever precedes it.
In the case of the Dr. Phil couple, I have no doubt that the poor husband was terrified. What man in his right mind enjoys hearing his wife talk about his failings, not to mention hearing about them on TV, with Dr. Phil? He clearly regretted the affair; he had come back to his family, and he had tried to make amends. Yet the wife was having a hard time letting go of it.
As she reiterated the obviously well-trod ground of "You don't know how much you hurt me," the husband looked contrite for a while. But he eventually got frustrated and said, "Yes, but it happened over a year ago. Can't we just put it behind us and move on?"
Enter Dr. Phil, who wisely told the man, "A woman can't move on until she feels heard."
I hate to break it to you, Dr. Phil: It's not just women, and it's not just personal relationships.
I've seen similar scenarios play out in business settings, parent-teacher conferences and on the world stage. I've watched executives' failure to validate each other provoke such anger that business meetings threatened to come to blows. The longer people feel unheard, the more angry and emotional they get.
Nothing improved for the Dr. Phil couple until the courageous husband (with Dr. Phil's coaching) was able to say, "It must have felt like I had stomped on your heart." In that one marriage-changing moment, the wife finally felt heard. The tension left her body, she exhaled in relief, and just like that, poof -- the self-erected barrier of anger was gone.
This is a dramatic example of how quickly you can change the energy of a conflict or disagreement by simply validating the other person's perspective.You don't have to agree with them; just demonstrate that you heard and understand.
The magic word here is "and." Yes, the IT project is important, and operations is also a top priority. It helps if you really mean it, but this is one of those instances where faking it until you make it really does work. If you replace "Yes but," with "Yes and," you'll see a big difference in the way your conversations play out.
Here's the bottom line: The other person's thoughts, needs, goals and emotions aren't going to go away. You can try to understand their perspective, or you can try to blow past it. "Yes but" leaves the other side feeling hurt and angry. "Yes and" validates their perspective and makes them feel heard.
Which one do you think is more effective?
Excerpted from "The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Resolving Conflicts Large And Small" (Penguin). Now available in paperback.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author, columnist, business strategist and the president of McLeod & More, Inc., an international training and consulting firm. Her newest book, "The Triangle of Truth," was called "the ultimate guide for solving problems and managing conflict" and named a Top 5 Business Book for Leaders by The Washington Post . Visit www.TriangleofTruth.com for a short video intro.