Wednesday, July 28, 2010

No One Cares What You Know Until They Know That You Care

The title for this post is actually a common saying in the sales world, but it is just as applicable in the world of relationships, as I have learned through long and terrible experience. Below is some advice that, on a good day I take, and on a bad day I lose relationships for failing to abide by.

Joe says: If I know I'm right, then why beat around the bush. I'm just gonna come out and say it. Not my fault if she's not willing to listen to reason.

Jenny says: I have a right to my opinion, and I will say it however I please.

There are two reasons why one might say something that is true but known to be in opposition to what one's partner is saying: (1) that one wants to be right and their partner to be wrong, strengthening their own ego, or (2) that one wants their partner to be right by having information that he or she did not previously have, strengthening their relationship.

Very often, when a person in a relationship disagrees with their partner, it is for the second reason, but their partner hears it as being the first reason. Why does this happen? People tend to take great pride in things that are theirs: their hair, their appearance, their house, their pet, and their ideas. The ideas become a part of their identity, and if you suggest that an idea that they have is wrong, then they feel you are saying that they are wrong.

Candy ran into this problem with a woman that she dated named Justine. Justine believed that it was okay to go one payment behind on any bill, including credit cards. This is factually not true, as credit card companies, unlike utilities, report late payments to credit bureaus immediately, but Justine had heard somewhere that she could get away with it, so she believed it and acted on it frequently. Candy was worried about Justine's credit, so she informed her that she was mistaken. This bit of unwelcome advice turned into a heated discussion, which turned into a fight. Recriminations flew and names were called.

Ultimately, this led to stress in the relationship. They eventually broke up... and Justine still lets her credit card bills go a month behind.

So, what should you do if you think your partner is wrong? First, there are two very important questions you must ask yourself: "Is this important enough to make an issue of?" and "Are you sure that it is your partner who is wrong?"

So you have decided to go ahead and bring it up. Here are a few other things to keep in mind.

You may be wrong
It doesn't matter if you are discussing the atomic weight of cobalt or the current weather outside the window. Even if you are standing there sopping wet from the rain outside trying to convince your boyfriend that it is raining outside, always approach any such situation from the standpoint of "I could be wrong, but I believe that..."

What this does is give your partner the space to also give a little. This shows that you are not trying to be right, just that you are trying to help your partner to be more awesome than she already is. If you say that you are right and she is wrong, you create an adversarial dynamic immediately. It is head to head, win and lose. For you to be right, she must be wrong, and who wants to lose and be wrong? On the other hand, if you admit that you could be wrong, then she will feel more comfortable admitting that she could be wrong, creating the space in the conversation to move and find the correct answer... which may be what you started with, may be what she started with, or may be some entirely different answer (e.g. it was raining, but it just stopped a moment ago and is now sunny - happens all the time in New England.)

This issue is less important than our relationship
When one gets heatedly into a discussion, one can lose perspective. Was Justine's bill paying habit a critical element in their relationship? Probably not, yet Candy felt a need to bring it up and could not let go, damaging the relationship over an issue that really did not matter all that much to them.

Always seek to maintain perspective. Maybe the issue is a serious make or break issue, but if it is, remember that the discussion is not intended to defeat your partner but to smooth out an issue to allow your relationship to continue.

Beware Structural Paper Towel Rolls
A few years ago at a game store I worked in, there was a glass fronted display case with glass shelves inside. One of the shelves was 3 inches too short to reach on of the support pieces, so it would wobble and fall over if anything was placed on that end. The make-shift solution was to place a roll of paper towels under the unsupported end to prevent it from falling. Unfortunately, since the roll made everything look stable, many people thought that the roll of paper towels was just left there by accident, and they would unwittingly take it out, causing catastrophe, Magic cards and giant D20s flying everywhere!

For many people, some of their beliefs are like that. To you, it is just some abstract concept or unimportant idea. To them, it may be a core touchstone on which their mental shelving is balanced. You find it objectionable in some way and try to rearrange it and discover a massively disproportionate response. Everyone has their core issues that everything else is built around. Common ones are religion, family obligation and tradition, and morality.

However, let's imagine that you are talking to someone who is fanatical about nutrition: fanatical beyond the point of health into the level of obsession. You try to ply them with logic, facts, research, articles, and only manage to get him angrier and more defensive. What you do not realize in your crusade to bring him to your point of view is that his favorite uncle died when he was young due to a heart attack caused by poor nutrition and this issue has become a touchstone and a cornerstone because of that experience.

This is one of the most difficult issues in relationships because it happens in the heat of the moment. In the calm times, it is easy to say "we should work to respect each other's feeling and ideas," but when emotions are high and voices are edgy, something more like "that's the stupidest load of tortoise chips I have ever heard." This second statement has a more detrimental effect than the first.

Understanding this, the most important thing for both people to keep in mind is that even thought you may get hot under the collar, the relationship goes on. Anger happens, but if you can be strong enough to let it go, then you can leave the rest stop of conflict and drive back onto the clear, open highway of joyous romance.

Some of the concepts explained here are based on the Fourth and Fifth Habits of Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a book I highly recommend to anyone who interacts with people in any part of their life.

1 comment:

  1. one thing that I think could apply to these situations is the 60 second reality check.

    60 Second Reality Check
    As soon as something triggers a very strong feeling of irritation, sadness, fear or anger take 60 seconds to go through the following list:
    1. Does what just happened really matter to me?
    2. In the grand scheme of things, how big a deal is it? Is it likely to seem like a catastrophe in twenty four hours? A week?
    3. Am I taking this too personally?
    4.If I react now, will it probably help or make matters worse?
    5. Would it make sense to take time to think through the situation, then decide how to react?
    6. Are my thoughts/actions helping me or hurting me right now? Is what I'm telling myself about the situation accurate or might I be jumping to conclusions?