Elizabeth Fawcett, a family therapist and a professor of marriage enhancement at Brigham Young University, says that lack of positive or nice communication is one of the reasons contentions arise in marriage and in general. "I have talked to many married couples who feel that their spouse's heart is really in the right place when they talk, but they are saying things to them in a way that is hurtful," she says.
Speaking in an offensive way, Fawcett believes, is a key trigger that brings contention into a conversation, which causes listening on either side to decrease and communication to come to a halt. "If you speak in an offensive way, it makes the other person defensive. . . . They perceive that they are under attack and then proceed to shut down," she says. "When we find ourselves in that mode, we are not capable of hearing what is being said."
Fawcett believes that good communication is a reflection of the receiver. "It's not what we say that makes good communication, it's what we are hearing from the things that are said to us, and if we can't understand what is being said, that is when the problem occurs."
To help conversations avoid the evolution to argument, Fawcett suggests using these phrases the next time you are the sender or receiver in a discussion. You might be surprised how these phrases keep the peace and harmony between you and your spouse, friends, or colleagues. 1. "This is what I am hearing you say; is it what you are trying to tell me?" When you feel that you don't fully understand what is being said, repeat back in your words what you think the other person is saying. Stating things the way you are hearing them allows the speaker to rethink what he or she is saying and put it in different words that make it easier for you to understand.
2. "I have an opinion about this; are you interested in hearing it?" When listening to a spouse's or friend's problems, you may want to give your opinion on the situation. Always ask first if it is wanted. Half the time, people just want to vent, and if you interrupt and try to fix something, it may cause contention. By asking, it shows that you are really trying to help the situation. This phrase works especially well with children and teenagers.
3. "Let's just put that book on the shelf for now." Subjects discussed over and over again between spouses or colleagues can often cause tempers to flare. Setting the subject aside for a time allows nerves to calm and the conversation to stay positive. This phrase can be helpful for keeping the peace until a time when both sides can come back to the conversation ready to speak calmly about it.
4. "I need some help. Would you be willing to help me?" Some arguments start because family members or coworkers don't carry their share of responsibility. Instead of accusing the person of being lazy and rude, be assertive and ask for help - and be specific. "I need your help. If you wash the dishes, I will load them in the dishwasher." Say it in a friendly way, and don't be overly demanding.
5. "I am not trying to bring up any problems from the past, but . . . " It's hard to keep the peace between you and a spouse if you are constantly bringing up faults from the past. Don't bring them up unless you absolutely have to. Reassure your spouse, if you must talk about it, that you are not trying to rehash past injuries, but that this topic is important to you, and you feel you should discuss it.
6. "I need to talk. When is a good time for you?" Whenever you want the full attention of someone while you're speaking, scheduling a time to talk is often the best option. Between spouses, it's best to choose a time other than when your husband is watching the big game or your wife is on the phone with a friend. Finding time that fits both of your schedules allows for a more meaningful conversation and the avoidance of an argument. Your boss or coworkers will also appreciate this phrase.
7. "I am sorry you are upset." Oftentimes if friends or family don't take the advice you gave them, they still come back to complain about their situation. Instead of saying "I told you so," try to understand why your advice wasn't taken and really listen to the problem. By making a rude remark and rubbing in that your advice was best, you may start an argument, or worse, lose the trust of that person.
8. "I think you already know my opinion about this, but I can listen." If a friend always finds herself in the same problem and you have already given her your opinion multiple times, set a clear boundary. Tell her that you are willing to listen to the problem, but that she already knows your opinion; tell her if she hasn't liked your opinion so far, you might not be the right person to get advice from on this issue.
9. "Well, I have a different opinion about this subject, but thanks for yours." Most contention occurs because two people disagree. The goal in this situation is to be polite and end the conversation. Find a balance between the "me and you" factor in the conversation, and admit to having a different opinion but thank someone for theirs.
10. "I agree to disagree, and let's leave it at that." If you know that you are never going to see eye to eye with someone about a specific topic during a conversation, just agree to disagree and let the conversation end. It's not worth the time or energy to contend with someone about something when you know neither of you is going to change your mind about it.
Communication is perhaps the most vital element in any relationship. "The most important thing [in avoiding] arguments in communication is to slow down the process, try to hear what someone is saying, and express how we truly feel," Fawcett says. Making the effort to improve communication and prevent contention can allow us to see the other person more clearly and respect their opinions and individuality.