The first duty of love is to listen.
Last week a couple met with me to explore communications coaching. Cathy (names changed) admitted she didn’t feel a need for coaching – it was her partner Jack’s idea to meet with me.
Cathy claimed everything’s good in how they talk – though at times, she said, she “might” be a bit too passive in their arguments – especially when he becomes “his usual pigheaded” self!
Hmm. . .
Jack readily admitted he’s competitive and enjoys arguing even when he knows he’s wrong. This is true even with Cathy.
I asked if she enjoyed arguing with him when he was in the “zone.”
She didn’t. In fact, she hated it.
But, she said it didn’t matter as she just shuts down and lets him have his way.
Jack jumped in, saying that he hated it when she shut down.
I asked if he heard why she shuts down. Yes, but. . .
“Then why do you do it?” Cathy demanded.
“I don’t know,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.
“I don’t want to argue. All I want is to get what I want,” Cathy matter-of-factly explained.
“There, that’s the kind of attitude I don’t like. I feel like she’s disrespecting me,” said Jack.
“She doesn’t take what I say seriously. I explain things logically to her. I give her the reasons why we need to do something a certain way and she ignores everything I say.”
“Is that true?” I asked Cathy. “Do you ignore Jack? Do you intend to disrespect him?”
Cathy was blunt in her response, “I know what he’s going to say – I just don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to know the reasons why I can’t have something when I feel I should have it. The problem is he thinks with his head and I think with my heart. He doesn’t respect me when he doesn’t listen to why I want something.”
Exasperated, Jack, tossed out, “She doesn’t have any reasons for anything. All she has are just feelings.”
Let me freeze frame here – does any of this sound familiar?
I want to point out that Jack and Cathy were very polite in the way they spoke to each other – this wasn’t a shouting match. However, they clearly felt frustrated.
Let me try to distill an hour and a half conversation into some manageable thoughts.
Studies show that the most successful relationships are the ones where the couple is similar enough that they comfortingly compliment each other and different enough that they invitingly challenge each other.
This is certainly true with Cathy and Jack.
By dint of personality and profession (engineer) Jack values logic.
Cathy is a person, by dint of personality and profession (sales), who values feelings.
He spots specifics and she stares at the panorama.
He thinks logic is going to win the day because that is how logic is supposed to work.
However, as soon as she begins to feel that he’s clobbering her with facts, she shuts down. “What’s the use? He’s not interested in what I have to say” is her mantra.
And he becomes frustrated when he sees her give up. He wants her to fight for her ideas. He’s a competitor and that’s what competitors do!
They’ve created dance steps, patterns, rituals for arguing and those steps are now like the air they breathe.
They presume, “well, that’s just the way we are.”
I asked Jack, “when you’re in an argument, do you notice that she’s becoming more passive?”
“Then, why do you persist?”
“I want her to see it my way.”
“Does she ever come out of her passive state and say, ‘you’re right—I wasn’t thinking straight.’”
“Never? Then why do you persist?”
And I asked Cathy, “in an argument, what’s your goal?”
“To get what I want.”
“And how do you do that?”
“I plead and then when I get frustrated, I just ask, ‘what do I have to do to get X?”
“And do you ask in a pleasant tone of voice or do you have attitude?”
Smiles all around.
“Do you pout; cross your arms, and make it sound like a demand if not an ultimatum?”
She actually looked shocked that I knew!
80% of what we respond to in a conversation is not what is said, but how it is said.
She tuned him out when he started to lecture.
He tuned her out when she started to pout.
No one likes a know-it-all and no one likes a whiner.
So, what to do?
It’s not possible to magically change personality. Nor is there any reason to do so.
Choices can be made in how to communicate.
Cathy needs to understand that “because it feels good” is not a reason that is going to advance her cause. How do you respond to a “reason” like that?
Jack needs to understand that people don’t always make decisions based on what is most logical.
He needs to help Cathy explore her feelings so as to help her understand what she is thinking.
And, she needs to help Jack explore his thoughts so as to help him understand what he’s feeling.
They each need to help the other understand what it is they individually want and explain why they want what they want.
Together, they need to want to find new ways of having conversations.
And that’s what I’m going to help them do in our future coaching sessions!
Do you want to break through the negative thinking that is preventing you from being influential and heard?
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