Today I want to talk about one small shift, a simple change in mindset, that can diffuse conflicts and help partners understand one another more deeply.
Imagine approaching a tense discussion with your partner first from an attitude of wanting to understand what they think, feel, believe, and prefer, and how they came to their conclusions before trying to get your point across.
This is leading with curiosity.
It’s easy to assume that you know what your partner means and why they think what they do. Perhaps you have had this discussion many times before, and you believe you know exactly what they will say.
However, you might be missing something important by making these assumptions. When you respond by debating, defending, de-railing, objecting, or any number of other ineffective responses, you don’t just shut down your ability to understand your partner, you also miss out on an opportunity to help your partner take their thoughts to a deeper level. When you ask your partner truly curious questions, in an effort to understand their perspective, you open up the possibility of an “aha!” moment of understanding that can deepen your connection.
Approaching with an attitude of curiosity can also help you manage your emotions during a tense discussion. If you’re able to maintain the mindset that your partner is simply telling you something about how they see the world, it can help you stay steady emotionally, and avoid taking on blame or thinking that your partner’s opinions are an indictment of your beliefs and preferences. We are all different, so it’s totally normal and to be expected that you and your partner will see things differently. No big deal! How interesting! I wonder how they came to think that, or respond in that way.
Next time you find yourself in a tense conversation with your partner, and you notice your stress rising, take a moment and breathe. Remind yourself, “We have plenty of time to work this out, and we don’t need to come to a resolution right away. It will help us both if we proceed with as much understanding and information as possible, so I’m going to spend this time just trying to figure out where my partner is coming from and what they really mean, before I react to what they’re saying. This is an opportunity to learn something new about this unique person that I love. What they’re telling me is a reflection of their life experiences, and I truly want to know them.”
Set aside the part of you that fears being judged, or wants to be heard first, or has the right opinion. Then, ask a question–not a loaded, “how could you say that…”-type question, but a question of honest curiosity:
- “That’s so interesting. Tell me more about how you see that.”
- “What just happened for you? How did what I said get under your skin?”
When you do this well, your reward can be a revelation–a peek into how your partner sees the world. What could be more rewarding than that?