Much of the stress we encounter in life stems from conflicts that aren't resolved well -- or aren't resolved at all. Perhaps it's the argument with your wife that ended in a yelling match (or the silent treatment). Or maybe there's a recurring conflict between you and your boyfriend that never quite gets resolved, and you sense a lingering resentment between the two of you.
Arguments are a normal part of life -- it's certainly not expected that you never disagree with the people that you care about. But what can help is finding a way to disagree that doesn't drive a wedge between the two of you. Wouldn't it be a relief if there were a way to end an argument more effectively, bringing the two of your towards a common ground?
Just such a strategy does exist, and we'll explore in this blog how to do it. In this approach, there are three steps to ending an argument effectively: 1) Ask 2) Validate 3) Join. Next time you're faced with an escalating argument, employ these three steps.
1. Ask. This step involves taking a step back from the argument and asking the other person to let you summarize their position to make sure you understand it correctly. You might say, "Let me make sure I understand where you're coming from," or "I want to make sure I'm hearing your point of view correctly." Then, paraphrase what you believe is the issue based on their point of view. This may seem counter-intuitive at first, because typically in an argument you are trying to make a case for your side. But that's exactly why it's so effective. When people argue, they are desperately trying to get their perspective heard. So when you stop explaining your side -- and start listening to their side -- it makes the conversation much more manageable. By ending the power struggle to be heard, it allows the other person to feel less defensive.
2. Validate. After you correctly identify the person's perspective about the problem, the next step is to validate how they feel about the problem. Validating doesn't mean you have to agree with the other person's perspective, but it does show that you know where they're coming from. You might say, "I can see how you'd feel that way," or "It makes complete sense that you'd feel that way given the situation." To do this, focus on the parts of the other person's argument that are legitimate and that you can relate to. Showing that you understand where he or she is coming from allows the other person to let their guard down, and makes them more likely to be willing to look at things from your perspective.
Validating their perspective also sets a respectful tone to the conversation. It shows that you respect the person and their feelings, even if their perspective isn't necessarily the same as your own. You can then proceed to explain your position, with the understanding that they also may see things differently, but that what's important is that you understand where each other is coming from.
3. Join. The last step is essential. This is where you join with the other person, showing the other person that you both ultimately want the same thing: to resolve the conflict and maintain the relationship. You might say something like, "We're on the same side here, not against each other. I want to work this out together." By brining up the fact that your relationship is more important than the argument, it puts things in perspective. Yes, the issue at hand is important to you both, but your relationship together is ultimately what really matters. Joining with the other person also defuses the angry emotions or coldness that might be building, because it reminds you both that you do care for each other.
Resolving an argument in this way can take some practice, but it's worth the effort. You'll find it's much more effective than withdrawing, yelling, or putting each other down. When you start to end arguments in this way, it helps you be less avoidant of conflict because you know you can resolve it in a manner doesn't hurt your relationship.
And remember, just because an argument ends badly the first time around, it's never too late to make a second attempt. You can approach the other person and tell them you didn't like the way things went the first time around. Let them know you want to try again. You might say, "I didn't like how our argument ended last time, and I'm sorry I walked away. Can we try again? I want to make sure I'm hearing your perspective..." Then begin a new conversation, using the three outlined steps.
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD is a psychologist, author and relationship expert. Her work has been featured in Redbook, Men's Health Magazine, Shape.com, ParentMap, and eHarmony. Her new book, When Depression Hurts Your Relationship: How to Regain Intimacy and Reconnect With Your Partner When You're Depressed is now available. Visit her online at www.drshannonk.com.