Imagine this scenario: two partners are bickering over some basic disagreement that probably seems more important to one of them than the other. They love and care for one another and probably don’t want to be in conflict, yet they repeat the same cycle of conflict, over and over again. The question then is: why do they keep repeating the same cycle that inevitably leads to conflict?
This could be for a number of reasons: not feeling heard, feeling misunderstood, speaking over each other, trying to have too many conversations at the same time, focusing on being "right" rather than working together, etc. The list goes on...
So how can we respond differently when experiencing difficulty communicating? One approach I’ve found helpful is ASKing!
A.S.K.= Healthier Communication
(A)ffirm your partner + (S)hare your Thoughts/Feelings + (K)ey Issue(s) = Healthier Communication.
Step One: Affirm.
Using affirming language means to acknowledge your partner’s point of view and try to understand what they are going through. It can essentially be thought of as “mirroring” their thoughts and feelings with your words.
Examples: “I see what you're saying..." "I'm hearing you say _________, is that right?" "It sounds like you're feeling ___________, am I hearing you right?"
Step Two: Share your thoughts and feelings that contributed to the conflict (Using “I” statements).
This might take some time, especially if you are still emotional and defensive. Take some time to think through what you would’ve liked to have done differently. This “disarms” the conversation by letting your partner know you take full ownership of your actions and helps them to do the same.
Examples: “I felt as though I was being attacked and I got defensive without even really thinking it through. I know I shouldn’t have, but I guess I just didn’t think it through before responding.” “I wish I could’ve responded differently. I guess it caught me off guard and I reacted out of defense.” “I only wanted to help, but I realize now that my way of helping was not what you needed at that time.”
Step Three: Focus on the Key Issues at hand, only discuss one situation at a time.
It is vital at this point that each partner begins to set aside their ego, seek a “common ground,” and begin to feel united in their cause. This is the point at which each partner can say “we are a team” rather than feeling like competing individuals and then create a plan/solution for whatever conflict you’re facing.
Examples: “As much as I can see what happened, I’m wondering what we can do to handle this differently in the future.” “What if we tried…” “How would you feel about…” “What if I…” “Could we just try…and if that doesn’t work we’ll try…” “Let’s make a plan together, let’s both list 3 ‘must-haves’ and then we’ll go from there.” “I know this is more important for you than it is for me and I want to support you.”
Don’t be discouraged or upset if the solution process isn’t perfect. The concern isn’t negotiation and trying to get your partner to come as far as possible; it’s about meeting each other’s emotional needs and working together. Your communication tools and creativity will need to adapt to fit problems and conflicts you will encounter, and more often than not, trial and error will be your best bet in the solution step.