Our family bickers like no other, and after a while it can rank on your nerves. The bickering can and does often end in argument with hurt feelings and misunderstandings. But for some reason, they keep doing it over and over again. Any advice to intervene and stop this behavior?
My main goal in writing this column is to help you understand human behavior better, so you can see situations accurately and respond in a way that will create the results you want. Before I give you some advice to stop the fighting, I’d like to explain why most people bicker and argue.
People generally bicker for one of these five reasons:
Let me explain what I mean by the word "validation," though, because it does not mean that you agree with this person. I believe you can completely disagree with everything he or she says, and still validate him as a person. To me, validation is about honoring and respecting another person's right to see the world the way he sees it, and think and feel the way he does. You may not agree with his position, but you can honor his right to be who he is at this point in his journey.
You can validate this person's worth as a human being by just being willing to listen to her thoughts and feelings, and honor her right to have them. When you do this, the other person generally calms down. I believe the best answer in any situation is to give love and validation.
You may want to remind the other person of your love in the middle of the fight: “In spite of this fighting I love and respect you, and I just want you to remember that my love for you is bigger than this issue.” (I actually use this in my personal life.)
Here are some other suggestions that would diminish the amount of bickering:
1) Learn how to have mutually validating conversations. I have a worksheet on my website that explains how. If you will follow the steps exactly, it will greatly improve your relationships.
2) Institute a family time-out rule. Everyone must agree ahead of time to honor this rule. The rule says that if a conversation gets heated and someone calls a time-out, everyone will walk away, go to their corners and calm down before you talk about this issue further.
3) Be accurate with your words. What I mean is, don’t exaggerate, over-generalize or personalize your complaints. John Gottman from the University of Washington did a study on how couples fight and how their words affected the success or failure of their marriages. (You can read about this in the book "Blink" by Malcolm Gladwell). Gottman discovered that if people made an issue personal and turned to character assassination, rather than focusing on specific complaints, the relationship wouldn’t survive. He said to make sure you didn't turn the complaint of, “You left your dishes on the table” into, “You're such a lazy slob.” He could listen to people fight for only a few minutes and predict if their relationship would make it, based on the words they used.
4) Decide to let love override most small issues. Gottman also said people are generally in one of only two states in their relationships: They were either in “positive sentiment override” where they could quickly forgive most offenses because their love would override most the issues, or “negative sentiment override” where they would draw lasting negative conclusions about each other from each offense. In these negative relationships, even good deeds were seen as good deeds from a bad person.
If you have an underlying dislike for someone in your family that is showing up in every situation, I would recommend some professional help post-haste.
5) Decide right now to let people be a “work in progress.” A painter hangs a sign like this on a painting when he leaves for lunch, because he doesn’t want anyone to judge it yet. The people in your life are all struggling, scared students in the classroom of life. They have a lot to learn and they need some room and permission to be imperfect and grow. Imagine everyone in your family with that sign around their necks every day and choose to forgive most offenses, because you're imperfect, too.
You can do this.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach and popular speaker who specializes in repairing and building self-esteem. Read about her free Tuesday night coaching call on her website.
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Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.