Are You Intent To Control Or Intent To Learn?

Life is full of choices, and the menu of options starts as soon as we wake up in the morning. Should I get out of bed? What should I have for breakfast? What’s the latest I can push my departure-time before I’m late to work? (a favorite, of course).

What few people realize is that some of the most important choices will happen when we’re in the midst of conflict. In a recent article in The Huffington Post by author and therapist Margaret Paul, Ph.D., the author lays out the all-important choice we all must make in the midst of an argument: Am I intent on controlling the situation or am I intent on learning from the other person?

She writes about a couple who seems to bicker about everything, but no one takes the time to listen to the other’s point of view. She writes, “They would each get locked into their positions, seeing themselves as right and trying to convince the other person to see it their way. They had what I call a “control-resist system.”‘

She goes on to explain what the “control-resist system is, “In this system, one person approaches the other with an intention to win, to be right — to control. The other person, not wanting to be controlled, goes into resistance. One is trying to win and the other is trying not to lose. One is trying to be right and the other is trying not to be wrong. As long as their intentions were to control and not be controlled, they were stuck. They had no way of reaching resolution on any of their issues.”

The alternative? Taking a moment to actually LISTEN to the other person–what does he want? Or, perhaps more importantly, what does he need?

If, as I believe, every complaint is a NEED masked as a COMPLAINT, then this makes sense. I even had one client who used to ask her husband, “What do you need?” when he was complaining about something. Immediately, he would calmly verbalize his needs to her. Voila! She finally knew what the complaining was all about!

So, next time you’re in the midst of conflict, ask yourself if you are intent on controlling the argument or if you’re willing to learn what the other person needs. You may be surprised by what happens next.


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