Tiny tweaks in word choice make a difference

In 1973, America watched as then President Richard Nixon vehemently declared on national television, “I am not a crook” in regards to the Watergate scandal.

Not many people believed him.

In fact, as soon as he uttered the word “crook,” most people immediately envisioned a crook.

The major mistake Nixon made was in his framing. By saying the word “crook,” he evoked an image, experience, or knowledge associated with crook in the minds of everyone watching. 

George Lakoff, a professor in cognitive science and linguistics at University of California, Berkeley, makes the point in his book Don’t Think of an Elephant! that when trying to get your point across, refrain from using the other side’s language. Doing so will activate and strengthen their frames and undermine your own views. Instead, successfully arguing a point requires you to establish your own frames and use language that evokes images and ideas that fit the worldview you want.

Think about it this way: Something that has a “95% effective rate” will sell better than something with a “5% failure rate.” It’s all in how you frame it.

Vivian Giange, writing in Fast Company    

4 Ways to tell if your Relationship will Survive

John Gottman runs Seattle’s Love Lab. He believes he can accurately predict which couples stay together based on his lab studies, and his guesses largely revolves around supportive/destructive comments. So destructive is the effect of certain behaviors on marital happiness, in fact, that he calls these behaviors The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The first horseman is criticism: "attacking someone's personality or character" rather than making some specific complaint about his or her behavior. The difference between saying, say, "I wish you had taken care of that bill" (a healthy and specific complaint) and "You never get the bills paid on time!" (a generalizing and blaming attack) is very significant to the listener. Criticism often engenders criticism in return and sets the stage for the second horseman: contempt.

"What separates contempt from criticism," explains Gottman, "is the intention to insult and psychologically abuse your partner." Negative thoughts about the other come out in subtle put-downs, hostile jokes, mocking facial expressions, and name-calling ("You are such an idiot around money"). By now the positive qualities that attracted you to this person seem long ago and far away, and instead of trying to build intimacy, you're ushering in the third horseman. Defensiveness comes on the heels of contempt as a seemingly reasonable response to attack -- but it only makes things worse. By denying responsibility, making excuses, whining, tossing back counter-attacks, and other strategies ("How come I'm the one who always pays the bills?!"), you just accelerate your speed down river.

Once stonewalling (the fourth horseman) shows up, things are looking bleak. Stonewallers simply stop communicating, refusing to respond even in self-defense. Of course, all these "horsemen" drop in on couples once in a while. But when a partner habitually shuts down and withdraws, the final rapids of negativity can quickly propel the marriage through whirlpools of hopelessness, isolation, and loneliness. The bottom line is that flooding is physically uncomfortable, and stonewalling becomes an attempt to escape that discomfort. When flooding becomes chronic, stonewalling can become chronic, too. Eighty-five percent of the time the stonewaller (among heterosexual couples) is the man. Though flooding happens to both men and women, it affects men more quickly, more intensely, and for a longer period of time.

Repair attempts are a way of talking about how you're communicating with each other. "Can we please stay on the subject?" "That was a rude thing to say." "We're not talking about your father!" "I don't think you're listening to me." Such statements, even when delivered in a grouchy or complaining tone, are efforts to interrupt the cycle of criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling and to bring the conversation back on track.

"In stable relationships," explains Gottman, "the other person will respond favorably: 'Alright, alright. Finish.' The agreement isn't made very nicely. But it does stop the person. They listen, they accept the repair attempt, and they actually change" the way they're relating. Repair attempts are "really critical," says Gottman, because "everybody screws up. Everybody gets irritated, defensive, contemptuous. People insult one another," especially their spouses. Repair attempts are a way of saying "we've got to fix this before it slides any deeper into the morass." Even people in bad marriages make repair attempts; the problem is, they get ignored.

Training people to receive repair attempts favorably -- even in the middle of a heated argument -- is one of the new frontiers in relationship therapy. According to Gottman, "Even when things are going badly, you've got to focus not on the negativity but on the repair attempt. That's what couples do in happy marriages."

Gloria Blanchfield Thomas, Contemplating Marriage: Reader

arguments worth having

Parents who browbeat their kids into being obedient and agreeable may not be giving them the best preparation for the real world. A new study shows that encouraging teens to argue calmly and effectively against parental orders makes them much more likely to resist peer pressure.

University of Virginia researchers observed more than 150 13-year-olds as they disputed issues like grades, chores, and friends with their mothers. When researchers checked back in with the teens two and three years later, they found that those who had argued the longest and most convincingly—without yelling, whining, or throwing insults—were also 40 percent less likely to have accepted offers of drugs and alcohol than the teens who had caved quickly.

“We found that what a teen learned in handling these kinds of disagreements with their parents was exactly what they took into their peer world,” study author Joseph P. Allen tells NPR.org. The key to having a constructive debate with your kids, experts say, is listening to them attentively and rewarding them when they make a good point—even if you don’t end up reaching a mutual agreement. “Think of those arguments not as a nuisance,” Allen says, “but as a critical training ground” for wise, independent decision-making.

The Week Magazine

arguments worth having

Parents who browbeat their kids into being obedient and agreeable may not be giving them the best preparation for the real world. A new study shows that encouraging teens to argue calmly and effectively against parental orders makes them much more likely to resist peer pressure.

University of Virginia researchers observed more than 150 13-year-olds as they disputed issues like grades, chores, and friends with their mothers. When researchers checked back in with the teens two and three years later, they found that those who had argued the longest and most convincingly—without yelling, whining, or throwing insults—were also 40 percent less likely to have accepted offers of drugs and alcohol than the teens who had caved quickly.

“We found that what a teen learned in handling these kinds of disagreements with their parents was exactly what they took into their peer world,” study author Joseph P. Allen tells NPR.org. The key to having a constructive debate with your kids, experts say, is listening to them attentively and rewarding them when they make a good point—even if you don’t end up reaching a mutual agreement. “Think of those arguments not as a nuisance,” Allen says, “but as a critical training ground” for wise, independent decision-making.

The Week Magazine

The Gift of Belonging

We all need a place we can call home – not just brick and mortar and four walls, but an atmosphere that is secure, where we feel completely comfortable with each other in the sureness that we belong, and that our happiness and well-being are of utmost importance to our partner. John Powell has captured the essence of this love in one sentence: “We need the heart of another as a home for our hearts.”

You are accustomed to spending time together without quarrels and recriminations, so that you feel safe with each other. At the same time, familiarity should never bred discourtesy. The courteous kindness we show our partners should be even greater than courtesy shown to anyone else.

Although warm affection seems as simple and uncomplicated as the comfort of an old shoe, it takes a measure of time and consistent behavior to build this love in your (relationship) – time spent in proving to each other that you can be depended on to be loyal, supportive and kind. In short, that you can be depended on.

It is possible to begin developing this love now, even if you have failed in the past. It will require forgiving and forgetting past mistakes. It will necessitate a practical decision to be one against the world. It must include consistent kindness in your daily behavior, for this is fundamental to the continuance of love.

Ed Wheat, Love-Life for Every Married Couple

How to deal with conflict

The DESC technique was developed by Sharon Anthony Bower, author of Asserting Yourself as a method for solving interpersonal conflict. Here’s how it works:

Describe..

          Do:

  1. Describe the other person's behavior objectively
  2. Use concrete terms
  3. Describe a specific time, place, action
  4. Describe the behavior not the “motive”

          Don't

  1. Let your emotional reaction drive the conversation
  2. Use abstract, vague terms
  3. Generalize for all time
  4. Guess motives or goals

Express..

          Do:

  1. Express your feelings
  2. Expressed them calmly
  3. State feelings in a positive manner as relating to a goal to be achieved
  4. Direct yourself to the specific offending behavior, not to the whole person

          Don’t:

  1. Deny your feelings
  2. Unleash emotional outbursts
  3. State feelings negatively, making them put-down our attack
  4. Attack the entire character the person

Specify...

          Do:

  1. Ask explicitly for change in your downer’s behavior
  2. Request a small change
  3. Request only one or two changes at one time
  4. Specify the concrete actions you want to see stopped, and those you want to see performed
  5. Take account of whether your downer can meet your request without suffering large losses

          Specify:

             (if appropriate--what behavior you are willing to change to make the agreement)

          Don’t:

  1. Merely imply that you’d like a change
  2. Ask for two large a change
  3. Ask for too many changes
  4. Ask for changes in nebulous traits or qualities
  5. Ignore your downers needs or ask only for your satisfaction
  6. Consider that only your downer has to change

Consequences...

          Do:

  1. Make the consequences explicit
  2. Give a positive reward for change in the desired direction
  3. Select something that is desirable and reinforcing to your downer
  4. Select a reward that is big enough to maintain the behavior change
  5. Select a punishment of a magnitude that “fits the crime” of refusing to change behavior
  6. Select punishment that you are actually willing to carry out

          Don’t:

  1. Be ashamed to talk about rewards and penalties
  2. Give only punishments for lack of change
  3. Select something that only you might find rewarding
  4. Offer a reward you can't or won't deliver
  5. Make exaggerated threats
  6. Use unrealistic threats or self-defeating punishment

The power of sibling rivalry

Sibling rivalry can be a year-round tradition for some families. University of Missouri researchers followed more nearly 150 pairs of siblings for a year and found the conflict fell into two overall categories:

1. Conflicts about shared resources and responsibilities which focused on equality and fairness, like whose turn it was to empty the dishwasher or use the computer or ride in the front seat of the car. These siblings were more likely to become depressed.

2. Meanwhile, those who argued over privacy and personal space, such as borrowing clothes without asking or entering a room without permission, were more likely to be anxious and have low self-esteem. The most vulnerable for this twist were younger siblings.

The researchers say the way preteens and teens react to the conflict with siblings to the has to do with what they perceive is at stake. You'll find details about the study in the journal Child Development.

Stephen Goforth 

How to turn a simple disagreement into a feud

1. Maintain a healthy fear of conflict.

2. Be vague and general when you state your concerns.

3. Assume you know all the facts and you are totally right. (Do most of the talking)

4. With a touch of defiance, announce your willingness to discuss the matter with anyone but avoid any constructive conversations about it.

5. Latch tenaciously onto whatever evidence suggests the other person is jealous of you.

6. Judge the motivations of the other party based on previous experience, keeping track of failures and angry words.

7. Avoid possible solutions and go for total victory and unconditional surrender.

8. Pass the buck!

Ray Kraybill

(adopted from) Repairing the Breach

Arguing with Parents helps a teen battle peer pressure

Arguing with your parents as a teenager trains you to reject peer pressure. University of Virginia researchers observed more than 150 13-year-olds as they disputed issues like grades and chores with their mothers. Checking back in with the teens several years later, they discovered that those who had argued the longest and most convincingly—without yelling or whining—were also 40 percent less likely to have accepted offers of drugs and alcohol than the teens who were required to simply obey their mothers. Study author Joseph P. Allen says constructive debates with parents are “a critical training ground” for independent decision-making.

The Week Magazine

Ask yourself this question when you argue with your partner

Arguments between married couples boil down to two things: Someone either feels unfairly controlled or neglected. That’s the finding of Baylor University psychologists. They gave questionnaires to more than 3500 married couples. Researches say the tension that sparked arguments between them nearly always had to do with whether the partners felt valued or understood. The lead professor in the study says figuring out whether the message is “You’re ignoring me!” or “You’re controlling me!” goes a long way toward developing a healthy relationship.

Stephen Goforth