When you have a disagreement with a friend or spouse, do you respond with avoidance, anger or denial? You probably don’t need me to tell you that only leaves you further from a resolution. Instead, try communicating with emotional integrity. You have to mean what you say and say what you mean — and then allow your partner to do the same. Here are 5 steps to help you do just that.
1. Give or receive honest input.
It’s important that both people know they are going to be told the truth. Give honest input and be open to receiving the same from someone else. You don't have to say everything you're thinking, but everything you do say has to be accurate. If your partner asks you if you're upset, and you are, you have to be willing to say "Yes." Don’t deny that you’re upset by saying, “Nothing is wrong; I’m fine.” If you’re not ready to discuss it, a better response might be, “I don’t want to tell you right now,” or “I’m just not ready to talk about it yet.”
2. Listen to your partner and reflect on what he/she is saying and feeling.
It’s important to be an active listener, and that means mastering two important tools: reflection of content and reflection of feelings. Reflection of content means that you listen to the person; then, you verify that what you are hearing is what your partner is actually saying. You have to say, “What I hear from you content-wise is …” to ensure that you have the facts right. Reflection of feelings lets your partner know not just that he/she has been heard, but that you understand where he/she is coming form emotionally. You can ensure that your understanding is accurate by saying, “The feeling I think you’re feeling is anger/resentment/hurt, etc.”
3. Accept feedback and respond.
If you are the person who is giving the feedback, you may have to clarify your point of view if your partner isn't accurately hearing what you are trying to say. If you are the person who is receiving the feedback, accept the clarification from your partner. Don’t be defensive or interrupt – just listen. Once you are clear on what your partner is really saying, then you can respond appropriately.
4. Stay in the moment.
Find a place where you won't be distracted and can devote yourself entirely to talking and listening. When the subject matter is heated, that can be difficult, but you need to stay present. Also, make sure you stick with the issues at hand; keep it relevant. Don’t bring up old grudges or sore points when they don’t belong in a particular argument. Put boundaries around the subject matter so your conversation doesn’t deteriorate into a free-for-all.
5. Do not quit.
Do not quit the discussion until it is completed. To keep it from dragging on, you can negotiate a time limit beforehand, so that both of you know how long the conversation will last. Arguments should be temporary, so don't let them get out of hand.