Explain your anger, don’t express it, and you will immediately open the door to solutions instead of arguments.
One of the biggest challenges when dealing with social interaction is when we place the need to be right and be heard over the need of doing right and hearing others. We, unconsciously, train ourselves to win arguments and assume that we are right. We tend to assume that any criticism is an attack on a personal level so we react by taking a defensive attitude, sometimes even going so far as to go on the offensive against the person who made the criticism. A larger problem arises when we realize we “might” be wrong, yet by this time we have dug ourselves so far down the hole, we don’t know how to get out.
With all our defense mechanisms we have developed to protect our ego, we forgot to develop the tools necessary to understand those with a different opinion than ours, we forgot that empathy to the pain and frustration of others is something you must develop. More so, we are never really taught the tools to properly express said empathy and interest in understanding. The closest we learn is to say “let’s agree to disagree.” To be honest, that phrase can be translated to “I don’t really care what you think and I’m tired of trying to make you realize I’m right.”
Our discussions shouldn’t be about expressing our anger and frustrations. They should be about explaining our anger and frustrations. The first one promotes the problem and is used to attack someone. The other is looking for understanding and for a solution. The other person might be hurt and is simply trying to find some retribution, even if it’s not the proper way to go about it. Keep in mind that you are just as responsible as the other person if the situation escalates. If anything, it’s your responsibility to deflate the issue, from an argument into a discussion. With that being said, how can you turn a situation from the first to the latter when you are at the receiving end of the debate?
The first thing is you must keep your own temper in check. Meeting anger with anger is like trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline. Be mindful of your own tone and volume, as these usually say more about a person’s intentions than the actual words they use. But what can you say to start creating a conversation where people can actually be understood. Well, let’s start with that.
“I may be misunderstanding…”
Start with the possibility that you don’t really understand what the problem is. It might even be that the person doesn’t quite understand the problem themselves. This forces the person to explain what is bothering them, rather than express the fact that they are bothered.
“How does that look to you?”
Often arguments are a result, not of a difference in opinions, but a difference in perspective. What you view in one way, the other person might view it in a different light. You are simply asking them to explain. It’s easier to understand something when you understand where the other person’s coming from.”
Believe it or not, “I’m sorry” isn’t the most effective defuser of a situation, this is. “I understand” means you, well, understand. It means you actually place yourself in the other person’s shoes. Just avoid, AT ALL COSTS, to add the “but.” “I understand, but …” means you are planning to pretty much ignore the other person’s opinion.
Defusing a situation isn’t just about one person calming down another, but about creating a conversation where both are part of the solution. This allows you to explain your point of view without making it into some kind of attack. It forces the other person to look at your perspective, but keep in mind this only works if the person has seen you are willing to do the same.
“Let me show you…”
Many times those who are angry don’t really want to see any other point of view or any other reality other than their own. This isn’t about showing how the other person is wrong and you are right, but about showing the person where you are coming from, what your perspective is.
“What alternative do you suggest?”
Here’s a tricky one. When genuinely done, this is about valuing the other person’s opinion and input. When spited out just to get it out of the way, this is pretty much along the same line as the empty “I’m sorry,” a condescending way to say “shut up already.”
“How can we work together to make this work?”
All too often, arguments are about one person telling the other to fix something without both taking some kind of responsibility for the solution. This forces both parties to actually work together for an inclusive solution.
“Let’s talk about what IS working.”
This might seem like you are redirecting the conversation to avoid the topic. This only works AFTER you have set the ground work for a proactive conversation. When you understand what works and why it does, this can be extrapolated to deal with what doesn’t work. It also turns the mode of the conversation into one where positive solutions are more possible instead of dragging on all the things that make a solution impossible.