Relationship Resource Center

Are You a Master of Dismissal?

Consider the number of times in your life that while arguing with someone, you have listened to them and said “Yes, but…” This is essentially a losing strategy in any conversation where your desired end state is closeness and mutual understanding. This is true because the verbal form of “Yes, but…” signals to the other person that you are engaged with them in a winner-take-all struggle. The word “yes” might be meant to communicate that you have understood what was just said, and you might have understood every single word of the message. However, you are inadvertently setting up a battle by using the word “but.” It often feels to the other person as if you have suddenly removed all of the pieces on a chess board and placed them in positions of your choosing. You now appear arrogant, righteous and controlling. You seem to be acting as if the information you are now adding to the conversation is so convincing that it will inevitably change their mind. It won’t work. It is an invitation to a duel.

conversation-yes-butWhat you are probably trying to create is a conversation in which there is an open exchange of thoughts, feelings and information, where everyone can contribute, speak and be heard. Such exchanges can be fun and exciting. You learn how other people think and feel, and you allow new information to influence your own position. There would be sharing between equals resulting in a superior outcome because the intelligence of the group is greater than the sum of its parts.

What the “Yes, but…” effectively does, whether intentional or not, is minimize the argument, intelligence and reasoning of the other person. You have moved into the position of being a master of dismissal. Even while you try to be fair and even-handed, you are perceived as self-righteous and pompous. The inevitable conclusion is that you should permanently strike the “Yes, but…” from your spoken vocabulary.

There are a wide variety of healthy alternatives for you to begin to use to invite balanced and fair exchanges. The simplest is the construction, “Yes, and…” When you use this form, you are adding to the conversation without negating that which has come before. You can even amplify this model by saying, “What really makes sense to me about what you just said is … And I would urge you to consider this…” By modeling such bridging techniques, you invite your partner to return the favor in his/her reply. You can also use curiosity and inquiry to develop additive dialogue techniques. In this style, you genuinely ask for explanation or expansion of what your partner said before you add what you would like him/her to consider from your point of view. It might sound like this: “I’m not sure I fully understand the point you are making here. Would you say more about it? I really want to see your view before I add my thoughts to the mix.”

It can also be useful to state out loud that what you most desire is not to win the argument, but to move together towards a consolidated resolution that incorporates the best of everybody’s thinking. It is not so important where the two of you end up; it is how you feel about each other and about the relationship as you approach your conclusion.

Finally, it is good to keep in mind that your joint decisions are not etched in stone. Either one of you could learn new information the next day that might cause both of you to shift your thinking and your preferences. Be gentle about how you express your wishes, and be cautious about pushing too hard to win an argument while sacrificing closeness and intimacy.

by Dr. Howard Lambert

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