1) asking “What do you want?” can stop an argument in its tracks, and
2) conflict resolution should be a cognitive rather than emotional process. Don’t expect to have a logical and rational conversation while trapped in a state of fear or anger.
By incorporating the two concepts, couples can work through an argument with the following approach that came to me during a recent coaching session:
Step 1: Call a “Timeout”
Agree that anyone can call a timeout during a heated discussion so that cooler heads can prevail.
Step 2: Think things through
Agree that during the timeout each person will think through answers to the following questions:
- What’s really going on here?
- What is it that I want?
- What do I take responsibility for?
- What am I willing to give up?
Step 3: Attentively listen to each other’s perspective
After a 15-minute* “timeout” come back and take turns sharing answers to the above four questions. That is, one person speaks while the other listens. The listener should then repeat what s/he heard the other person say before sharing his/her answers.
*The length of a timeout may need to be adjusted given certain circumstances, such as one person heading out the door to go to work.
Step 4: Negotiate the wants and commit to change behavior
Negotiate the wants of each person and commit to whatever you agree to do different. It’s just as important to agree on how to hold each other accountable when the commitment is broken, because it will be! We are all victims of our own patterns of thinking and behaving, therefore we need to expect that someone will break his/her commitment and we can’t take it personally when s/he does. Holding each other accountable creates a partnership and will strengthen the relationship, along with helping you become better human beings.
You may need to tweak this formula to work for your unique circumstance, but it could be a place to start if you want to minimize unnecessary stress and create greater peace of mind in your life.
To round out this 4 part series on Ending an Argument, I address some common communication errors in Part 4: Responding to an irrational partner.