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“How do you know?”


Have you ever been in the middle of a very heated discussion?  Of course you have.  Everyone has been in a few battles and have the scars to prove it.  Try to remember the last time you were in a really heated discussion.  You were doing your best to try to keep your cool, but your blood pressure kept rising.  The other person keeps coming at you, saying everything they can possibly say just to piss you off.  They are fully on the offensive and if you haven’t already, you are about to make matters worse.  You’ve come up with the rudest, most offensive thing you can say.  But I challenge you; in the midst of an argument, neutralize the other person by saying, “How do you know?”

Make Them Pause And Think

When you ask “How do you know?” in the middle of someone’s rant, it kinda puts them on their heels a bit.  Most of the time, they will have to stop and think, “How do I know?”  This will make them pause and think, providing you with an opportunity.  An opportunity to interject some common sense into the conversation.  You could provide some reasons for why something is the way it is or pose more questions.  Some times people get rolling on something and are begging for someone to help them stop.  A few good words could  make that happen. 

Did You Get The Eggs?

Here is an oh too familiar example.  Before you left for work this morning, your spouse asked you pick up some eggs from the grocery store on your way home.  She has been preparing for a party the next day and needs to make a cake.  When you walk in the door, the first question she asks is, “Did you get the eggs?”  But crap, you forgot.  Innocent mistake.  It happens.  She immediately starts yelling at you.  She may be thinking, “I asked you to do one thing for me and you can’t even do that?  You are coming home like you don’t have a care in the world, probably jamming to your music and just not thinking.”  This is where you say, “How do you know?”  She may answer, “Well, I don’t see any eggs and you love your music.”  Both of those statements may be true and this is probably not the first time you forgot something.  But imagine her response when you say something like, “I just had the worse day at work.  I feel overwhelmed and completely forgot.  I will go get the eggs now.”  For most people, this will make them look at the situation through different eyes.  Perhaps even result in a complete end to the argument.  Or you could have said, “You’re right.  I completely forgot.  Next time I will make a note for myself and leave it on my driver’s seat or put a reminder in my phone.”  This too, for most people, will result in them simmering down.  

Move Them From Attacking to Explaining

In the midst of an argument, often times there is an aggressor and someone who is more passive.  Some times that aggressor is just mad at the world.  This may be because of one thing, or a combination of things.  It may be that the last event was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  At this point they will usually just be on a rant, cursing you and/or the world, venting like crazy.  The little query of “How do you know” makes them stop and think.  It moves them from attacking to explaining.  Explaining will give you answers to why they feel the way they feel.  This is a great opportunity to empathize and be on their side.  

With the eggs example above, they may have explained how stressed out they are about the party.  How they needed some help.  This is a great opportunity to agree that parties are a lot of work and you see how hard they are working.  Apologizing and going to get the eggs would most likely calm the person down. 

Final Thoughts

“How do you know” may not always work, but it is worth a shot.  It could also help you to stay calm as you are trying to find the right spot in the argument to ask.  You are listening to the rant, but instead of trying to find something rude to say back, you are trying to find the right spot to interject.  You are looking for where the other person has made an assumption.  A spot where you can toss that little grenade in their path to rattle their current thought process.  This can also buy you some time to “Make the conversation safe.” Or maybe calm the person down with an apology or an explanation of why things are the way they are.  And always remember that saying you are sorry doesn’t mean you think you are wrong.  It just means that you value the relationship more than being right or wrong.

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