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  • Maura McCarley Torkildson

What Wins the Peace Prize in Relationships?


What Wins the Peace Prize in Relationships?

According to Sharon Strand Ellison (Taking the War Out of Our Words) that prize goes to curiosity. I’ve written about curiosity before, but it is worth writing about again. Try using curiosity during an argument. When you get curious, you naturally put down your verbal weapons and switch to information gathering. That information supports your ability to make better choices and respond more effectively(even more important at work). You also might be surprised what you learn. Non-judgmental curiosity changes how you show up. A full 55% of face to face communication is visual (body language) and 38% is voice (tone, inflection). That leaves only 7% for content. Your body language and your tone will change when you move from judgment to curiosity and the other person will know it and shift accordingly. Here are a few tips:

  • Pay attention to the words the other person is using and ask them what the word means to them. You may be surprised by their answer, and what you thought they meant may not be what they meant at all. Words have a funny way of meaning different things to different people and conjuring up vastly different mental pictures.

  • Here’s a good example. My family used the words “silly goon” to describe how goofy we were when having fun – my mental picture was of a cute little goofy cartoon character. I affectionately called a friend of mine a “silly goon” once when we were having fun and was surprised at how offended she became. I found out her picture of a “goon” was of a big oaf – not at all what I had in mind when I spoke. I could understand why she was offended and when I explained my picture to her, she was no longer upset.

  • When you are non-judgmentally curious, your tone changes and your questions do not come across as interrogations. You can enhance this by starting your questions with what instead of why. These help to disarm the other person and increase the likelihood they will share important information.

  • Let’s say you are upset that your partner wants to go out dancing with friends. You might want to ask “why do you have to go out dancing tonight?” It sounds like an accusation and an interrogation when put that way. Instead ask, “what’s important to you about going out dancing tonight?” Use an innocently curious tone and the whole question becomes one of gathering information for understanding rather than an interrogation.

It can be hard to focus on the highest good when we are angry. Anger is a protective emotion and we often want to lash out. Anger can arise in response to feeling hurt and it is easy to use anger to avoid the vulnerability of being hurt. But if you think about what you really want when you are hurt, it probably is an apology, respect, caring and/or a change in behavior. How you express your anger can make a difference, lashing out with accusations and interrogations puts the other person in defensive mode and moves you further from having your needs met. Getting curious can lead you closer.


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