Going on a defensive rant kills off effective communication
Wife: ...and all you do is take care of yourself while I…
Husband: That’s NOT TRUE! I do more than anyone does for his wife and kids and you know it and I’m not going to take these insults from you anymore because I’ve had enough of your lack of appreciation for what I do around here, which you learned from your mother who never thanks your father for anything and yet you turn it all around so that YOU’RE the victim when nothing could be further from the truth!
Sometimes it’s the husband, sometimes it’s the wife, sometimes it’s the parent, sometimes it’s the child. It could be a sibling, a grandparent, or even a coworker. But whoever does the steamrolling is after one main goal: silence the “enemy.”
“She drowns me in a torrent of words. I can’t get my point across. After I say a few words, just trying to introduce the subject for goodness sake, she’s off and running with her answer. I honestly have no idea what she’s saying or what it has to do with anything. The only thing I know is that my ability to talk is crushed. I can’t get a word in and even if I do, there’s no one home to listen. It’s like she’s in some sort of trance. She’s all glassy-eyed and her mouth is going and going and going.”
Steamrollers aren’t having a conversation. They mow you down. They stop you from speaking by talking over you — usually loudly, forcefully, and endlessly. They wear you, the “opponent” down by making some big point with dozens of examples or elaborations that may or may not hang together. It doesn’t much matter to a steamroller, as the main goal is to hijack the conversation and toss their own point of view into the ring. But steamrollers don’t do this in order to be heard. They do it in order to exert power and authority. “You’re wrong, I’m right — and I can prove it by talking all night!”
Stop to Listen
As previously stated, steamrollers tend to be very defensive. They’re afraid to stop and listen in case some complaint or criticism might be lethal. After all, to them, it feels life-threatening to be wrong or to admit defeat in a battle of wills. Adrenaline fuels their speed and fury as they push out their words as fast as possible, lest some fact slip by unnoticed. Most of their combatants quickly wave the flag, giving up the attempt to make their point, let alone prove it.
A truly confident speaker, on the other hand, can afford to listen all day. Patiently allowing the other person to talk, explain, build a case and elaborate, the confident speaker knows her turn will come and when it does, one swift move (or maybe two) is all it takes to hit her home run. She knows she speaks the truth and she knows that wisdom, compassion, and honesty are her friends. She’ll take her sweet time to express what’s in her heart and mind.
When loved ones aren’t obsessed with defending themselves, they have a much greater chance of enjoying a successful and relationship-enhancing conversation.
Wife: ...And all you do is take care of yourself, while I run around like a chicken without a head trying to get everyone ready and get everything ready. I really wish you’d just help me out and refrain from commenting on how late I am!
Husband: Wow. I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize what pressure I was putting you under. Of course, I can help you out — I should have been doing that all along! I’m glad you told me how you’re feeling about this. I’m going to change from now on. You deserve the best!
Wife: I’ve got the best!!
Even if the husband felt his wife was incorrectly accusing him, he could still wait patiently for her to finish her thoughts and then carefully and respectfully respond. Doing so would help her hear him and help the two of them get closer to a shared vision of their experience. This would strengthen their mutual love and understanding.
Slower, more thoughtful talking, and longer, more patient listening are two skills that can help reduce conflict and pain. More importantly, they help nurture connection and love.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 708)
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