Updated: Jul 5
After so many months sheltering in place, under such uncertain and turbulent circumstances, many of us are noticing an escalation of tension with family and friends end even at work. This can be particularly true for those of us living with other people. We are all under so much stress, potentially experiencing an extra dose of anxiety, fear, tiredness, just to name a few of the emotions showing up a lot these days. And the scapegoats and outlets for our frustration might end up being those who we spend most time with and/or those who we love the most.
A small disagreement over a comment or action becomes a lot more likely to escalate as we lose our ability to take a step back to fully understand what’s happening. We get so caught up in our thoughts and emotions that we often become blind to what is going on for the other person. We only see how right we are and how wrong the other person is. Suddenly all that matters is winning the discussion. And it feels so good to win. But at what cost for the relationship?
I got into a situation with a friend where I felt accused of doing something that really hurt them, but that I thought I had not done. I tried to reason and explain myself, but the more I talked, the more my friend got frustrated and the situation escalated. They felt hurt, angry, disappointed. I felt accused of being a liar and a bad person. We were so caught up in our anger and finger pointing that (I believe) none of us noticed those feelings at the time.The more we talked, the more we got disconnected. Truth is that none of us were really listening to each other. By not paying attention to their words and feelings I could not pick up on how hurt and disappointed they were feeling and therefore could not develop empathy and connection. I believe the opposite was also true.
More recently I was in the same exact situation, but on the other side of the table. I got into a disagreement with my husband over something that I was SURE I heard he say and he was SURE he did not say. That one word I thought I heard led to so many assumptions on my part that I very quickly created an elaborate story about his intentions and beliefs. We had a heated discussion followed by a few minutes of deep silence.
Thankfully I remembered about this phrase and about my preference to be happy rather than be right. I took a few deep breaths to calm my body and mind and was able to put down my guard and engage in a different way. We were able to have a productive conversation where we both talked about how we felt and, more importantly, truly listened to each other. The fact that I was able to let go of being right allowed me to clear my mind and see the situation more realistically. Why would he say or mean that? And why would that bother me so much?
When we are triggered by a situation we can easily get blinded by emotions and by the desire to win. We consequently lose our ability to listen and connect with the other party. In a matter of seconds, the person we love becomes our worst enemy and anything and everything they say is nonsense. All we care about is winning. Sounds familiar?
But if we are able to notice when it happens, take a breath and just listen, the outcome can be so different, and so much better. We can get a deeper understanding of the other person’s reality, of their feelings and intentions, and have a productive conversation where we really connect with each other. It does not mean bypassing our truth and not expressing our point of view, but doing that from a place of empathy and compassion. Listening can be a lot more persuasive than speaking. When someone feels heard they open up and become more willing to listen and engage in a constructive conversation.
So next time you see yourself in a discussion that you are “sure” you are right, try this experiment. Take a deep breath, stop talking and start listening. Try to bring some genuine curiosity and kindness to the discussion and you might be surprised with what you find out and how good it might feel. You might even feel happy!