Getting Stuck Arguments Unstuck

"We have the same argument again and again. He wants to spend money on more equipment for his business and I want us to have money in savings."

Arguments like this stay stuck because each person thinks it's about the content of the argument, in this case money, rather than the universal needs alive for each person is attempting to protect. The first person in this example may be convinced that the only way he can be creative in his work is to buy an expensive piece of equipment. The second person may think the only way she can meet her need for security and choice is to have a certain amount of money in savings.   When the needs get attached to the strategies like this a no way out scenario gets created.

Arguments also stay stuck when an empathic connection has not yet happened between the two of you. That is, you haven't yet fully stepped into each other's worlds and connected to the feelings and needs behind the strategy each is putting forth.

What does it take to create this empathic connection?

  • First, you need to find a willingness to set aside your ideas about why you think the other person is saying what they are saying. If you have known someone a while, it is easy to think you already know what is true for them. Assumptions like this block listening and connection.

  • An intention and willingness to stay with the dialogue until mutual understanding and connection happens. This means letting go of the thoughts that say, "This is hopeless!" or "Let's just drop it we are going to get into a big fight and get nowhere." Then come back to your breath and stay in your seat.

  • A readiness to give empathy. Let the person who is most ready to give empathy, listen first.

  • A willingness to stay with one speaker at a time.  This means that even though you have reactions and want to argue your side, you don't share anything about you when it is not your turn.  If you are afraid you will forget what you want to say, ask for a pause and write it down.  Then return to listening.

  • For the Speaker: Use the needs list and name the needs present for you in this situation. Remind yourself that repeating the same phrases again and again doesn't contribute to more understanding. Try a different way of saying it. Help the other person connect with you.  Most importantly, just express your feelings and needs without story or justification.  Use the feelings and needs list to do this.

  • For the Listener: If you are not in a place to offer empathy, then you may want to do some self-empathy first or receive empathy from someone else.  Otherwise, repeat back the feelings and needs you hear and let your heart connect at the level of shared humanity.  You may need to say what you hear a number of times and in a variety of ways before you really connect with what is alive for the other person. If you are hearing more words then you can absorb, interrupt and give back what you heard so far and, if they were named explicitly, make guesses at the feelings and needs up for the other person.

When you have created an empathic connection, there is natural giving that arises from the heart and you may be surprised at the actions and requests that occur to you in this place.  Your tenacious hold on "your way" softens and you begin to explore other ways that your needs could be met.

If you have a stuck argument with someone in your life, spend some time reflecting on the feelings and needs alive for you and what you guess might be alive for them. Before talking about it again, state your intention to create understanding around this. Request that you take turns and follow the steps listed above.