Are you easy to offend? Do you often find yourself angered when someone points out something about you that you consider unfavorable? Would your partner say so? And are your emotional reactions getting you anywhere?
We are a society comprised of many easily-offended people. For example, consider the recent Psychology Today article in which journalist Satoshi Kanazawa reported on research gathered by Add Health. In it, he listed the resulting statistics and offered a possible answer to the question this study introduces – “Why Are Black Women Rated Less Physically Attractive Than Other Women, But Black Men Are Rated Better Looking Than Other Men?”. Admittedly, the controversy surrounding this article pretty much passed me by. I had heard about the research, but the subject matter didn’t interest me enough to digest it … until a few days ago when I heard it discussed on the talk show, Insight, by the host, a guest and a bunch of outraged callers. The majority of the callers seemed to be black women. But black women are definitely not the only group of people to get offended over something that was meant to be informative. If you think about it for a minute, you’ll come up with plenty of examples of other races, genders, religious groups, etc, getting worked up over news stories that painted them in a negative light.
The article appeared nearly a month ago, and Kanazawa has since been fired, seemingly because of the backlash surrounding it. However, I respect and admire his willingness to present this controversial information in a logical, research-based, objective way. I am hardly saying that I agree with his conclusions, but if you disagree, attack the research, not him.
The same goes for relationships. How often have your partners (past and current) civilly and respectfully made statements about you that felt uncomplimentary? And how often have you reacted by going off on them? Consider this: When we change the dynamic of the conversation from logical and objective to emotional, we usually do so because:
1) It is a topic about which we are overly-sensitive (like religion, politics, or race, as in the case of Kanazawa’s article), or
2) There is some truth to the information, and we are uncomfortable addressing it.
So, instead of pondering the merits and weaknesses of the statements, we get offended and start an argument – making the discussion about hurt feelings rather than the real issue. But if we keep the argument on the level at which it was presented, and discuss what was said in a rational and substantive way, we participate in an exchange that gets everyone a lot further than lunging into a fight. And even if we don’t ultimately accept what our partners are saying to be true, the ability to have logical conversations will help them want to be open and honest with us over time.
In Stephen Covey’s highly-acclaimed book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he urges us to always “seek first to understand.” Before you get offended or react, hear your partner out – and make sure that you understand both the point as well as the spirit in which it was intended. Though the information might feel insulting, consider that fact that your partner’s intention might be to be helpful – to inform you, or to help you grow, be happier, or better navigate life and relationships. This possibility is reason enough to allow for a give-and-take discussion. And even if the intention is mean-spirited, and your mate is speaking out of frustration, anger or hurt, there is still a learning opportunity there. For example, you may become more aware of your mate’s perceptions, biases or misconceptions. If you can avoid the urge to react emotionally, you may effectively dispel the aforementioned, and ultimately grow closer with your partner. When this happens, everyone wins.
Appreciating your mate’s willingness to talk to you and present potentially sensitive information will make you a more Powerful Person in a Partnership.
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