Hard as it might be, the best thing to do when you’re fighting with a significant other isn’t to persuade them you’re right.
That just breeds negative feelings.
According to Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy, the best thing to do when you’re in a position of power is to listen.
Cuddy is the author of “Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges,” a book on the subtle yet powerful ways our behaviors can influence our thoughts and emotions.
“Presence” argues, among other things, that when we feel powerful — present, in control, in the moment — we also have the ability to bestow that power onto other people, either by building them up to feel powerful or by tearing them down.
During a recent public talk with “Quiet” author Susan Cain, Cuddy admitted her biggest challenges come in her personal relationships, with her husband in particular. Confronting conflict can make her incredibly anxious, she says.
In these cases, the remedy “Presence” suggests is to fully engage with whomever you’re fighting.
“When you walk into those situations that have a lot of conflict in them,” Cuddy says, “the first thing to do is to be present enough to allow the other person to speak first. You’re not giving power away; you’re actually allowing them to feel seen and understood.”
By listening to the other person’s side, you’re giving them the chance to become a part of the conversation. As the relationship guru John Gottman says, you’re allowing the two of you to kick around the problem like a soccer ball.
If the other person is saying something objectionable, “I think you have to bite your tongue. I do. I think you have to wait,” Cuddy says. “First of all, when you respond in that moment of anger you’re not going to respond well. And if you let them get through it, you’re going to get a little more information about what that is really about. Maybe then you do pause and say, ‘I need to step away from this for a moment.'”
Even if you don’t get new information relevant to the fight itself, there may still be nuggets of wisdom for how to handle later situations.
A fight about whose turn it is to clean the toilet, for example, could put one person squarely in the wrong, but that doesn’t mean the person who was right doesn’t stand anything to gain. Maybe there is a lesson on how chores should be divided or how the other person feels unappreciated.
Subtle insights like these can only be found once we shut our mouths and actually try to understand the other person, not crush them.
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