Not everything needs to be resolved.
Instead of pushing for resolution, push for respect. Push for everyone to get heard. And then push for connection, despite the lack of resolution.
People feel respected when they feel they have been heard. So how can I push myself to really hear people?
Here is the tactic I use. The first step to listening is the one most people fail at miserably. If I am talking then I am not listening. I need to shut up. However, I need to also stop talking in my head while the other person is talking. If I am just waiting to respond, I am not listening.
Next, I need to try “you” statements. When I was not used to making “you” statements, they felt ridiculous. Now they seem obvious.
A “you” statement literally just means that when someone says something to me, I say back to them what they said. If I can get it right, I also say back to them why they said it.
So let’s say a client is angry with me because I screwed up their tax return. I might say: “You are angry because I messed up your tax return.” I make it that simple, that direct. They might agree. Or they might say, “Well, it just seems like you must not care that much about me as a client if you made a mistake like that. I know I don’t have as much money as some of your other clients.” And then I might say, “OK. You’re angry because you feel like I was careless, and that I don’t pay as much attention to you as other clients.”
And so on. Notice the total lack of response. I am not responding or defending myself. I am simply trying to get to the point where I can repeat the angry client’s position to their complete satisfaction.
If I get it wrong, and they correct me, that’s fine. Everyone likes to be right. Everyone likes to win arguments. Everyone likes to correct other people. I just keep making “you” statements until the other person agrees that I’ve adequately explained back to them how they feel, what they experienced or what they believe.
If this process goes on for long enough, I will eventually get it right.
Every single individual person who has ever had a conflict with me has wanted to be heard more than they’ve wanted some “result”. I have never experienced an exception. Not in business, not as a pastor, not in my family, not in my relationships, not among friends. Seriously, not a single exception.
The only time that listening does not work is when there is an entire group of people that is trying to manipulate me into doing something I know is wrong. In such situations the group is always spending an obscene amount of time talking about me, and never talking to me as a group. In that case I obviously have a bigger problem that probably has something to do with an uncomfortable examination of why I am associated with that group in the first place.
Of course, listening to people does not necessarily provide any sort of resolution. We can listen to each other and simply disagree because we disagree.
That’s why it’s so important to push for connection. When I have an argument that cannot be resolved, I always make certain to connect with the person about something that we both share. Usually I try to physically connect, assuming that is acceptable in our relationship.
And I make absolutely certain to keep up whatever our “usual” methods of connection are. Nothing will kill a friendship or partnership faster than the silent treatment.
I know many people, including some of the people I care about most, whose lives would dramatically improve overnight if they simply stopped trying to resolve things. Resolution feels good, but it isn’t necessary. There is not always a need for closure. But there is always a need for respect and connection.