Recently I had an epiphany that has changed the way I deal with almost every person in my life and I wanted to share it with you. My question for you? The next time you are involved in some sort of interpersonal conflict – with a spouse, friend, client or employee – what would happen if you quit listening to the words they are writing or speaking and start thinking about where they are coming from. Think about the why more than the what.
In high school and college I competed in cross examination debate, traveling nationally to argue any side of any argument (in rapid fire fashion like this young lad). By college I was really good at listening to the first 30 seconds of an argument and preparing my rebuttal as my opponent completed their reasoning and support. Back in 2006 I wrote a post titled, “Best Business Prep for High School Students?” where are I argue that debate is the perfect preparation for business. Perhaps I was right, but I think debate might be the WORST preparation for life. Throughout most of my adult life I’ve been really good at ‘winning’ arguments and losing battles. My debate experience trained me to be right – to win any side of any argument – my life experience has taught me that being right is not very satisfying.
The other day I was involved in a tense conversation with someone and for some reason I stopped listening to their attacks and starting thinking about where they were in their life. I started to realize that they were in a seriously compromised position. They felt vulnerable, at risk and generally messed up. Instead of trying to win the argument they began I simply expressed my compassion for their situation. It was cathartic. I felt at peace. Interestingly their pace slowed down and the conversation switched from a debate to a simple ‘how do we resolve this’ sort of exchange. It took us a few days to resolve our differences, but we didn’t resolve them because either of us convinced the other that we were right. We resolved our issues because we felt true compassion for one another.
Give it a try. The next time you are in an argument, stop arguing, stop trying to win the argument, stop trying to be right. Instead, try to understand where your adversary is coming from. You might be surprised how effective understanding the why is versus the what. It has helped me immeasurably. Let me know if it helps you.