It is such a common problem; families can ‘fight’ around holidays. I suppose among the most common things moms say (especially with family members who are older and just visiting) is, “Can’t we get along for just one day?”
I want to share an idea you can experiment with as you approach holiday gatherings; but first, let’s think about conflict. What is conflict? Well, it’s when two people disagree…but in particular, they are each attempting to persuade or convince one another about their own view. Almost without exception this comes down to one word; OPINION.
Liberal/Conservative, homeschool or not, religious views, and ideas about health or parenting…all these things are dry brush for the fire of fighting. Of course, if other people weren’t so stupid, things would be fine 😉
So, what do you do? Good communication follows Steven Covey’s thought to ‘First Understand, then Be Understood’. I’ve found something even better is to First Understand, then Disagree. It is powerful because it really targets the disagreement. How often are people disagreeing about things they agree about because they are assuming something about the other person’s view? All the time.
Here’s the experiment— Give up your opinions for one day. Instead, why not simply seek to understand someone else’s view without offering your opinion? Here’s how it might look,
- A person makes a statement like, “The President’s an idiot,” or “Religion is the cause of all the problems in the world.”
- If you disagree, don’t start there. Instead ask, “How so?” or “What do you base that on?”
- Next, repeat back to them what you understand they are saying with an additional, “Is that right?”
- Repeat #3 (after they say more) until they say, “Yes, that’s it.”
- Finally, thank them for sharing and tell them something like, “I’m going to think about that.”
No, you don’t get to explain why they are wrong or where their ‘facts’ are off-base. You simply want to create an environment to hear their own thinking. In my experience, people will often tweak their own view as they express it out loud.
As we teach in our communication course (and in our book, GLAEN), it takes two to say yes, and one to say no. If you don’t argue your opinion, there simply can’t be an argument.
It’s only for one day and it gives you the opportunity to practice the virtue of careful and sincere listening. I think you’ll pleasantly be shocked at what a listening environment will do. Here are a couple of final suggestion:
- Print this article out (or forward it) and give it to anyone you think will be willing to try the experiment with you.
- After a few days of reflection, feel free to write them a letter about how you appreciated the conversation, and then tell them some countering thoughts you’ve had since then. A letter can be read over-and-over without interruption or escalation.
Of course, your family and friends may never have conflict (but I doubt it).In the meantime, Happy Holidays!
Dr. Fred Ray Lybrand
P.S. Notice – This is how we talk to small children (we listen).