Series: In the Language of Respect, Part Three

How to argue without offending and hurting the ones you love or need to understand



What do we do when a child misbehaves or acts out his frustration? We give him “time out.” We distance him from the aggression so we can reason or renegotiate with him.

The same principle applies when we take time away from our “on-the-moon” exercise.  When we come back to the point-by-form breakdown we created for the event that caused us so much anger/hurt, we are seeing it with new eyes and a refreshed attitude.

On the left side is your list of gestures, expressions and body language, the feeling they imply and the singular word or phrase that accompanied the physical expression. On the right side is your list of observations of how the other person appeared and sounded in reaction to what you said and did.

Self-awareness begins with this objective standpoint. Perhaps the first gesture noted is shaking your finger or head at the other person. Did you know that is a habit releasing frustration? What is your expression at the same time as you do this? The frown, the gaze. Hmm… reminds you of a stern parent, doesn’t it? Now look to the opposite list. How does the other person react? The person steps back, and you’ve noted there is an alarmed expression on his/her face.

If you were asked to remember what body movements you made while talking, would you know? Could you even remember? Are you aware that your foot jiggles, or you shift in your seat, or cross and uncross your legs or tap your fingers or scratch your head, rub your nose or nibble your lip? Each unconscious body movement sends a psychological signal, and that more than the words you speak set up how other people react to you.

Words, however, are the front line of the impressions you make.

Now back to your “moon” list. What single word did your invisible earphone pick up? “NO…” Seriously, you began by saying NO? Maybe: “NO… you are not being fair.” Or: “NO… you are wrong.” Or: “NO… you can’t do this.”

As you can see from the other person’s reaction, “NO …” and “you” are seen as confrontational, and the other person’s posture is immediately “on guard.”

If you put other people on their guard, they do not feel safe with you.  Would you if the roles were reversed?

We don’t even have to read the rest of the lists between you and the other person to know where this conversation is going. From bad to worse and straight downhill. Certainly there is no common ground established to build trust.

Because of these and other confrontational signals you project, you come away with the sense that you are not liked or that you are even hated by the people you engage in a dialogue because of their reaction to your “in-your-face” manner and tone of voice. Tone is another element together with your choice of words and physical expression that set up how other people view you.

Ah ha! I hear your outrage. You are honest. You are your own person. You don’t have to please other people. You are what you are. Deal with it.

All those points are true. But not everything is about you. That attitude is what sets up the disconnect. In any conversation or dialogue, there is you AND the other person. If you want them to understand and respect you, then you have to go the rest of the mile and show them understanding and respect too.

I will go back to an experience I had at work. Words were my barometer. I never stepped back and watched people’s body talk. So, yes I was known for being candid, but also for being argumentative. When I was selected to become the editorial director of my magazine group, it never occurred to me that I was picked because it was expected that my confrontational style would upset the balance of the management board. In fact, when the president and vice-president confirmed my appointment, I asked them, “You realize who you’ve picked, right? I will put what is best for the editors before what is politically correct.” They both smiled and said, “We know.”

Later, I realized that the VP was setting me up to fail so he could fire me, while the president wanted innovative thinking introduced to the stale structure of management and relied on my ability to adapt once I figured out the stakes. In the first management meeting, I listened to the issues and only raised my voice to ask a question. At the next board meeting, I was prepared to contribute, but the president introduced this rule before our discussions:  If any one began a point with the word NO, we had to contribute a dime to the coffee fund. You know who had to pay the first dime. Me.

This simple rule taught me volumes. If I wanted to introduce an opposing point of view, I had to find a positive way of doing it instead of blurting out, “NO, I don’t agree.”

How would you rephrase your disagreement with someone else’s statement? Actually the challenge became fun and I never lost an iota of integrity. I even gained respect and a willingness on the part of other board members to be less rigid. How?

My tool was a question. “What if WE looked at this [whatever the point was]from another angle?”

Do you see the shift in dynamics? It’s no longer you and me against the world. It’s “we.” I’m inviting us to co-operate together rather than debate against each other.

That shift in perception worked.

Distancing yourself from your anger and learning to shift your perception in the way you address issues and talk to other people will bring about many surprising positive results. I promise you won’t feel “hated” any more either. And if you become really skilled at shifting your point of view to include your “adversaries,” you may be surprised at how many actually seek your advice and opinion.

EXERCISE: How many other questions can you think of to ease into offering your opinion, which is quite different from what someone else has stated while communicating respect for their position?
1. What if we look at this from a different angle?
2.  ———————————————
3.  ———————————————
4.  ———————————————
5.  ———————————————
Hand covers mouth — covers a sense of inadequacy
Blushing — tension, anxiety
Jiggling foot, tapping fingers, shifting in seat, or crossing and uncrossing legs — nervousness, impatience, uncertainity, lack of confidence, desire to withdraw from presence
Holding breath, jutting jaw, ramrod spine, cold eyes or clenched fists — armoring oneself against tenderness, intimacy or pleasure
Standing too close, crowding (invading personal space) — intimidating
Leaning forward, nodding head, opening hands with fingers spread, widening of eyes — acceptance
Stroking arm with other hand — expressing need for self-assurance
Gaze shifting to side instead of eye-to-eye — lying
Crossing arms across chest — resisting, disbelieving, doubting, rejecting
Rubbing, scratching nose — skeptical, disapproval, repressed hostility
Excessive smiling — underlying anxiety 

About Bonnie Toews and John Christiansen

Bonnie's Blog Posts invite our readers and free spirits everywhere to share life's adventures with us. I talk about writing my novels, reading books, chatting with other writers and John's and my journeys around the world. We welcome your anecdotes to our experiences and discussions.
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One Response to Series: In the Language of Respect, Part Three

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