Last week I introduced a young, new attorney to our local courthouse and procedures. We sat in on a few hearings so she could get a sense of the various judges’ styles. Turns out I was familiar with one of the cases we observed and I found myself itching to stand up and indignantly respond to the blatantly false statements of one of the attorneys. (Note to young lawyer: not a good idea. One should actually be the attorney representing the party before jumping up to be heard by the court!). When the opposing counsel stood to address the court, he didn’t respond to any of the false statements. Rather, he calmly made his case. He gave his argument to the judge. Only then did he briefly and calmly address the first attorney’s statements.
Act, Don’t ReAct. You’ve heard it before. Exercise and eat right (act) so you prevent weight gain and yo-yo dieting (re-acting). Don’t say something (act) you’ll later regret and for which you’ll have to apologize (re-act). Walk away from the bar (act) because one more drink might have you up close and personal with a toilet the next morning (the body’s reaction). Listen to your own intuition (act) rather than mirroring what everyone else is doing (reacting).
Then why is it so hard to apply that simple formula in the heat of an argument? Why, when a spouse, or soon-to-be-ex-spouse, employee or boss, child or parent, says something infuriating, do we instantly want to lash out and set the record straight?
The answer can be found in our desire to defend ourselves. We want to convince the other that his/her belief is just plain wrong. That’s human nature. It’s also the reason why arguments escalate and resolution becomes illusive.
But human nature can be retrained. New habits can be learned and relearned as needed. On my walk/run yesterday near Lake Michigan, I ran into someone I hadn’t seen in years, a person I’d describe as a wise sage. Her twin granddaughters are now 15 and living with her. They sounded like completely normal teenagers: moody, hormonal, and exasperating. She told me she’s had to relearn a simple principle: Close Your Mouth. She’d observed that when she instantly responded to their various outbursts, it almost never went well. When she didn’t respond until some time had passed, she was able to regroup, say what she really wanted to convey (act), rather than responding (reacting) to the often irrational diatribes typical of a 15 year old. Resolution emerged more often when she employed this simple principle she’d learned years ago.
The beauty of this principle is it will automatically build in one of the core principles of what I call Conflict as Catalyst©: Listen First. If your mouth is closed, that’s the only thing left to do! And the space it creates for you will allow you to reconnect to your intention, your big-picture goal. When you do speak/act, it will be with benefit of that reconnection and in the context of a better understanding of the other person because you listened first. You will act rather than react.
Oh, that attorney the new lawyer and I observed? The one who first kept his mouth closed, listened, and then acted? He won.
Become intentional about how you want to show up in conflict. Allow for Conflict as Catalyst© and close your mouth, listen first, and act rather than react.
Wishing you wisdom,
Action without thinking is the cause of every failure. Peter Drucker