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YOU: From the way you say that, it sounds like it is a big

deal. [Mirror] I really would like to hear what makes you

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think I’m trying to control your life. [Ask]

WENDY: What, so you can tell me more ways that I’m

screwed up? I’ve finally got one friend who accepts me,

and you’re trying to chase him away!

YOU: So you feel like I don’t approve of you, and your friend

is one person who does? [Paraphrase]

WENDY: It’s not just you. All my friends have lots of boys

who like them. Doug’s the first guy who’s even called me.

I don’t know-never mind.

YOU: I can see how you’d feel badly when others are getting

attention from boys and you aren’t. I’d probably feel the

same way. [Paraphrase]

WENDY: Then how could you embarrass me like that? !

YOU: Honey, I’d like to take a stab at something here. I won­

der if part of the reason you’ve started dressing differently

and hanging out with different friends is because you’re

not feeling cared about and valued by boys, by your par­

ents, and by others right now. Is that part of it? [Prime]

WEN DY: (Sits quietly for a long time) Why am I so ugly? I

real ly work on how I look but . . .




From here, the conversation goes to the real issues, parent and

daughter discuss what’s really going on, and both come to a better

understanding of each other.


Let’s say you did your level best to make it safe for the other per­

son to talk. After asking, mirroring, paraphrasing, and eventually

priming, the other person opened up and shared his or her path.

It’s now your turn to talk. But what if you disagree? Some of the

other person’s facts are wrong, and his or her stories are com­

pletely fouled up. Well, at least they’re a lot different from the

story you’ve been telling. Now what?


As you watch families and work groups take part in heated

debates, it’s common to notice a rather intriguing phenomenon.

Although the various parties you’re observing are violently argu­

ing, in truth, they’re in violent agreement. They actually agree on

every important point, but they’re still fighting. They’ve found a

way to turn subtle differences into a raging debate.

For example, last night your teenage son broke his curfew

again. You and your spouse have spent the morning arguing

about the infraction. Last time James came in late, you agreed to

ground him, but today you’re upset because it seems like your

spouse is backpedaling by suggesting that James still be able to

attend a football camp this week. Turns out it was just a misun­

derstanding. You and your spouse agree to the grounding-the

central issue. You thought your spouse was reneging on the agree­

ment when, in truth, you just hadn’t actually resolved the date the

grounding would start. You had to step back and listen to what




you were both saying to realize that you weren’t really disagree­

ing, but violently agreeing.

Most arguments consist of battles over the 5 to 1 0 percent of

the facts and stories that people disagree over. And while it’s true

that people eventually need to work through differences, you

shouldn’t start there. Start with an area of agreement.

So here’s the take-away. If you completely agree with the

other person’s path, say so and move on. Agree when you agree.

Don’t turn an agreement into an argument.


Of course, the reason most of us turn agreements into debates is

because we disagree with a certain portion of what the other per­

son has said. Never mind that it’s a minor portion. If it’s a point

of disagreement, we’ll jump all over it like a fleeing criminal.

Actually, we’re trained to look for minor errors from an early

age. For instance, we learn in kindergarten that if you have the

right answer, you’re the teacher’s pet. Being right is good. Of

course, if others have the right answer they get to be the pet. So

being right first is even better. You learn to look for even the tini­

est of errors in others’ facts, thinking, or logic. Then you point

out the errors. Being right at the expense of others is best.

By the time you finish your education, you have a virtual

Ph.D. in catching trivial differences and turning them into a

major deal. So when another person offers up a suggestion

(based on facts and stories), you’re looking to disagree. And

when you do find a minor difference, you turn this snack into a

meal . Instead of remaining in healthy dialogue, you end up in

violent agreement.

On the other hand, when you watch people who are skilled in

dialogue, it becomes clear that they’re not playing this everyday




game of Trivial Pursuit-looking for trivial differences and then

proclaiming them aloud. In fact, they’re looking for points of

agreement. As a result, they’ll often start with the words “I

agree.” Then they talk about the part they agree with. At least,

that’s where they start.

Now when the other person has merely left out an element of

the argument, skilled people will agree and then build. Rather

than saying: “Wrong. You forgot to mention . . . ,” they say:

“Absolutely. In addition, I noticed that . . . ”

If you agree with what has been said but the information is

incomplete, build. Point out areas of agreement and then add

elements that were left out of the discussion .


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