The seminar leader had been out of her Subaru for five minutes before the puppets came out of her tote bag. Two of them. “I feel like you’re not listening,” a jackal says to a giraffe. They’re arguing. I have just turned 30, and a friend asked me to bail her out of a couples retreat in Malibu (boyfriend problems).
The woman has come to teach us how to argue. Or how to stop arguments. This, annoyingly, made me pretty angry. Because the grown woman with the puppets wants us to stop using the word “you.” Use of the second person is the most unintentionally offensive when arguing with a person: “You make me feel like you’re not listening.”
Generally, people fight when they confuse or conflate thoughts, feelings and emotions.
The puppetmaster in our Malibu house is about to explain a simple and powerful method. It has a terrible name, and therefore, it is the most underused method you’ll ever love: Non-Violent Communication.
Generally, people fight when they confuse or conflate thoughts, feelings and emotions. They’re three separate things, and keeping them separated is the best way to break up an argument. In an argument, your thoughts, feelings and emotions are having the contretemps. The easiest way to spot this is when someone begins an argument by saying, “I feel like…” when they really mean, “I think.”
To make it worse: no one in Malibu is listening to me. So let’s break it down.
1. Make an observation.
“Report only what a video camera could see,” says the therapist. Part of the reason you’re having an argument is that you’re angry, or someone is angry at you. Seek common ground in your observation. I’ll try it: “Yesterday when we talked in the living room, I gave an opinion and no one responded.”
2. Identify the feeling.
Honesty is key here. Identify the feeling without judgment: “I felt sad/frustrated/angry…” Beware of “faux-feelings”: attacked, betrayed, manipulated, bullied. These have strong emotions attached to them, but they’re not feelings; they’re observations steeped in bitter, bitter feelings.
3. Identify the need not being met.
One of the assumptions of NVC is that we all have the same needs and they are not in conflict. It’s just that our strategies for getting our needs met are in conflict. So own it. “I have a need for safety/respect/consideration…”
4. Make a request
This is the part you wanted all along. “I feel like you’re not listening” is really a shitty way of saying, “I want you to listen and respond to me.” Own your request and state it boldly. Nothing will move a disagreement further forward: “When we have a discussion and I give an opinion, can I request that you take a moment to respond to it before we move on?”
Almost everyone says “yes” because you’re not attacking them. You’re owning how you feel. They can identify with your simple needs, and you’re asking for something small. For the master class you can add, “Please let me know if that feels like a request or a demand.”
Will you feel stupid doing this the first time? Yes. But once you try it, you realize that every argument is 20 minutes of people being stupid when they could do this in under a minute.
For the samurai level: use this method to disarm another person’s attack: “When we talk sometimes we move on without asking your thoughts. This makes you feel isolated or angry, because you have a need for consideration. Can I make a request? Next time it happens please let me know.”