As a marriage counselor, obviously I deal with a lot of conflict. Most of the time, I spend lot of time teaching each couple healthy conflict resolution. I also had to do this a lot in the residential programs I worked in. I often ask the question “when two people are in an argument, why do they both gradually get louder and louder?” They usually respond with the correct answer which is each person wants to be heard. Then I ask, so if each person wants to be heard, what is the best solution to keep it from getting loud? And I almost never get the right answer on this. I either get blank stares, or some comment like “walk away and cool off” or “tell them they are right and apologize for being wrong.” Neither of those answers will solve the conflict or problem. Actually both of these actions will most likely make things worse.
So what is the answer? It’s quite simple. Listen and validate! The book of James says that a wise man is slow to speak and quick to listen. Does listening mean your side isn’t heard? Not at all. That again doesn’t solve the problem. But if you listen AND validate, the other person’s guard will come down, and you will be able to share your side as long as you speak to the other with respect and love.
What is validating? It’s letting the other person know that you are at least trying to understand what they are feeling or saying. Saying something simple like, “I can understand why you would feel that way, and/or I might feel that way too if I were in your shoes.” If you don’t understand. Say that! But respectfully! “I’m trying to understand your point of view, but I’m struggling with it. Help me to understand.” So many times, this will bring the other persons guard down, and if their view is flawed, they will likely recognize it at this point on their own.
In most of these situations, both are right, and both are wrong. Showing some humility could help both parties recognize both.
The problem is that we are all inherently selfish. All of us! And when we have a point that we are sure we are right about, we won’t budge. This is made even worse if we attach morality to it thinking our view is morally superior to the opposing view. So our typical response is to talk down to the other or others we are in a disagreement with. I heard one of my grad school professors say, “the moment you talk down to someone like they are a child, you immediately cut off their ability to hear anything you have to say.” Let that sink in for a moment. Talking down to someone causes them to become defensive which causes them to be unable to hear you. This is what usually happens in any conflict including marriage. We then start jumping to conclusions and/or go to extremes without understanding all the facts or the heart behind the person.
Another huge mistake is completely dismissing what the other is saying or feeling. If you say something like, “get over it” or “you are being dramatic” this further isolates the other, and it communicates to them you don’t value how they feel which ultimately says to them you don’t value them. You may be completely correct in your assessment that the other may be overreacting, but dismissing what they are saying will absolutely destroy your relationship. But if you validate that you can understand why they have come to that conclusion, it will open up their heart to hear your side.
We will also many times respond to conflict out of fear or trauma based on life experiences that have left us scarred. These scars will often cause us to be tunnel visioned and blinds us from having the ability to see things objectively. So in turn, we will respond emotionally. If this is you, get help. Seriously!
I also say to clients so often that you cannot control what someone else may do or say. You can only control your response. Your response can either make things worse, or help to find an objective solution.