Thursday, August 9, 2012
Wellness Matters: Try these tips to keep discussions from becoming arguments
By Dr. Marty Seitz
Access Wellness Group
In my counseling with couples, I often hear the question, “How can we keep from getting into arguments all the time? We never have a calm discussion.” While no one has a proven method for guaranteeing that a discussion won’t become an argument, I’ve found some specific behaviors that can help couples keep important talks productive.
(From Creative Commons)
For starters, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has a valuable bit of advice that is adaptable for couples in conversation. AA uses the acronym HALT to remind its members how to avoid getting too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired because those states increase the probability that a person will give in to temptation. For couples to avoid arguments, neither should be hungry and/or tired because hungry and/or tired people tend to be more irritable and less reasonable. Postpone important conversations until both of you are rested and have had something to eat.
Another tip that comes from the therapy trade is that both persons in a discussion should be sitting down. I’ve found that most arguments occur when one or both people are standing up. Why? Because standing prepares a person to fight or flee. Sitting prepares a person to talk and listen. Negotiations are conducted while parties are seated; debates are conducted while standing. Sometimes, if possible, couples might actually find sitting on the floor helpful while having important conversations. Getting angry is much more difficult when sitting.
People are also less likely to get angry when they believe their concerns are understood. Anger tends to be diffused if each party in a discussion listens and digests what the other person has said so well that he or she can summarize out loud the other person’s main points before sharing his or her own. This communication technique has been called reflecting and empathic or active listening. Someone has recommended that we all try to discover the other person’s point of view before defending our own.
Finally, one of the most helpful things you can do when you are in a serious discussion with another person or persons is to give them a spoonful of sugar with any negative statement. In one sense, reflecting what you understand the other person to have said is one way to give them something sweet to their ears and heart. We all long to be understood. Other forms of sweetness include (1) giving genuine compliments, affirmations, or thanks; (2) pointing out common ground, common interests, or common goals; and, (3) accepting some of the other person’s influence by agreeing with one or more of his or her points or by conceding a point.
So if and when you head into a serious discussion with someone, remember to RESST: be Rested, Eat something ahead of time, Sit down, show you have understood the other person’s point of view by Summarizing periodically, and say something positive early in the conversation, including Thanks.
Thank the person, giving something positive
Dr. Marty Seitz is an associate professor of psychology in the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Asbury University, where he has taught since 1989. He got his bachelor’s in psychology from Asbury University, studied at Asbury Theological Seminary, got a master’s degree in community counseling and a doctoral degree in counseling psychology from Georgia State University. In addition to his teaching, he has practiced as a licensed psychologist in Lexington since 1989, doing individual and couples’ counseling and has been working with the Access Wellness Group since its inception.