When in conflict with my loved ones, the things that often rile me the most are the behaviours that happen over and over again. And like so many people, afterwards, I will wonder why I allowed myself to become angry about something that is not very important. But having learned the technique of just asking for what I want, many rows and sulks have been avoided. So the next time you are becoming angry with a colleague, friend or loved one, try this method. Obviously, there are no magic wands, and it may take a little practice, but this is a very effective technique to resolve conflicts and disputes about small habits or behaviours.
Step 1: Pause and Be Curious
When you realise you are becoming annoyed with the person, take a little time out. Go and make a cup of tea or have a moment to yourself. While you are doing that, think what you would like them to do, or not do. Nearly always, instead of anger, you will find that there is a request you can make. It may be as simple as asking your teenage kid to hang her coat up instead of leaving it on the floor. Or it may take a little bit longer to work out what you want to ask for.
Step 2: Be Specific to Now
When we are annoyed, it’s easy to see our friends' behaviour as a constantly repeating pattern and that your teenage kid ALWAYS leaves her clothes on the floor (because, after all, it does keep happening). However, thinking or talking about it in this way tends to bolster old resentments and escalate conflict. So when you are preparing your request, just ask for what you want to happen today. Asking someone to hang her coat up today is much more likely to be effective than asking them always to remember to hang it up in the future.
Step 3: Avoid Rhetorical Questions
When we are angry, it is easy to become sarcastic or ask rhetorical questions. But again, this only escalates quarrels. Avoid questions beginning with the word "why..." as these often sound confrontational ("Why must you always leave your clothes on the floor?"), and when we ask them we are not really expecting an answer. Instead, remember that you are working out what request to make, so whatever you decide to say will probably begin with the words "Will you.... " or "Would you...." rather than words like "why", "what" or "who".
Step 4: Use a Neutral Tone
Hopefully the little bit of time you have taken to think about your request will have helped you step back from feeling quite so angry. And hopefully you will be able to make your request in a way that doesn't sound accusing or bad tempered. You might want to get the person's attention by calling them by name, and making sure that they can see you. Then just ask for what you want.
Step 5: Keep it Brief
Sometimes, especially if we are feeling anxious, we can begin waffling. If you are not careful, you may find yourself adding a lot of context or justification to the request. But it is much more powerful to just make the request and then stop. If the person wants further clarification, that’s the time to add more context or information. Otherwise, don't bother.
Step 6: Afterwards
The person may not do what you have asked them to do, but in many cases they will. If they don't, you will at least have moved the focus away from being angry for a moment, and it may be that the two of you can have a different sort of conversation about the issue, and perhaps reach a clearer understanding of why you both see this behaviour so differently. Often though, just asking does get you what you want. You may need to ask for the same thing many times, until it stops feeling like an infuriating issue. Decide if you feel it is right to thank the person or show appreciation when they meet your request. It might be unnecessary to thank my teenage kid for hanging her coat up, but if I have asked for something that is quite new or difficult for her, then offering appreciation may feel the right thing to do.