It’s frustrating when you have the same argument again and again.
You can’t find a solution. It starts as a simple misunderstanding but somehow it becomes the hill you’re willing to die on. How does that happen?
You’re not alone.
There is one word that heats up arguments and makes both people lose it.
Hint—it’s a word that we use all the time.
This word will escalate an argument FASTER THAN ANY OTHER WORD!
Using this word makes a person defensive, annoyed and ready to attack. You’ll notice that your heartbeat increases and you start to get really angry.
So what is the word?
Tag You’re It!
A “you message”focuses on what the other person does rather than looking at yourself. We do it without thinking. This is a common tactic during conflict. It’s easier to see someone else’s behavior but pointing it out starts a battle.
Here’s some example of you messages.
Then you’re off and running because a “you message” makes you feel criticized and want to lash out.
Hearing the word “you” ignites defensiveness because you feel compelled to defend yourself and prove them wrong. Even if you didn’t do anything, the desire to defend is automatic. You try to save face.
If you blame the other person, you’re off the hook. You get to be right. Alcoholics and addicts do this to divert the attention away from the addiction, and it works. You get caught up accepting the blame rather than deciding for yourself.
How to stop the ping pong game
When conversations start with a “you” it becomes a frustrating game of ping pong. You feel criticized so you launch a counterattack. Your partner does the same thing. This could go on forever. You have the same fight you’ve been having for years – without a resolution.
It’s so disheartening because nothing changes. If only the other person would change…
You can stop this cycle by keeping the focus on you. It sounds so simple. This starts the conversation on the right foot.
Pay attention to how many times you hear a “you” today. You’ll see how it escalates a simple conversation.
When “you messages” stop, the communicator becomes more accountable. You share without making the other person wrong. This often takes a bit of planning. Writing it out beforehand is always helpful.
Your partner will be more receptive because you can’t argue with a feeling. They’re more willing to listen because it’s not about being wrong. When sharing your perspective, you avoid blame.
This sets a powerful example for the other person to do the same. There is no attempt at control. It’s a way to express yourself and not feel guilty afterwards.
The Power of I
Using “I messages” work. I talk about them a lot because they keep you out of trouble!
The “I message” focuses on you. Express your feelings, your opinions, your needs. Simple yet effective.
Here’s how it looks:
I felt really hurt last night when you said I didn’t help with the housework. I did the dishes the night before so I thought I was helping out.
The focus is on communicating your upset not to attack. Keep the focus on the present situation.
Format for the I message:
When you (name specific behavior) I felt (name feeling) and I’d like (name your need).
Your challenge, if you choose to accept it:
Pay attention to how often you say you.
Notice the connection between focusing on others and the intensity of your reactions. Start expressing yourself as an opinion to avoid being right.
If you talk about your partner’s behavior, stick to the facts.
Avoid generalizations like always and never. Those words cause defensiveness the same way “you” does.
By keeping the focus on you, it becomes easier to listen and work things out. If the goal is to understand each other first, staying away from the “you’ is a great start.
It takes practice but it’s worth it.
This piece originally appeared on Michelle Farris’ blog.