Why she isn’t wrong (and you are, you jerk)

“Don’t do that!”

“Don’t accept that excuse! It’s not true!”

“Don’t coddle her!”

Have you heard any of those before?

I’ve heard these and similar arguments come out of my own mouth more than once. I’ve heard them from other parents, from coworkers, from my own family. We all have.

Have they ever worked to solve your problem?

Photo "CL Society 218: Crossing arms" by Francisco Osorio, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
You angry? Photo “CL Society 218: Crossing arms” by Francisco Osorio, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

Monday night was no exception. After a rough swimming lesson, my daughter refused to behave during a quick stop at the store. Her behavior had set off my wife, who was fuming when they walked in the house. I asked what was up. Immediately my wife was not happy that I wasn’t also boiling.

I didn’t know the story, but I knew enough that displaying anger wasn’t going to help anyone. “Empathy absorbs tension” in every situation, George Thompson (Verbal Judo) has taught me.

When we tell someone that they’re wrong, they become defensive. They put their guard up. People will justify their behavior and point to others for the fault.

I wasn’t trying to dismiss my wife’s emotions, but get to the root of the problem. I let her frustration at me slide off my back while I went to talk to my daughter.

After asking my 4 year old a few questions and listening, I understood more about my daughter’s position. It wasn’t a good position for someone who refused her afternoon nap. It was late, she was tired, class was hard, the store was boring. But at least I got to hear her story. Empathy took away her frustration and we were able to get through a quick, tear-free bedtime.

Later that night my wife asked what she was doing wrong, why everything has to be a battle.

I have a new plan. I don’t want to give advice to people that aren’t asking. I clarified, are you asking me? Knowing that I have an opinion on the matter, based on my reading and writing for Persuasion Reading List, she quickly said no.

I know enough that if someone isn’t ready to hear an answer, telling her how she’s wrong isn’t going to help anything. And of course, I might be wrong myself. We didn’t want an argument, and both happily changed the subject.

Today on the drive to school, my daughter and I discussed how people feel when you tell them their wrong. She threw in a few examples about her recent lies, yes lies, not being believed and how she felt frustrated by it. The conversation didn’t go where I expected. They rarely do.

I looked in the mirror and was struck by the beauty of the morning sunlight on my two children’s smiles, and I briefly recognized how much beauty we overlook when we’re angry.

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