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Communications lessons from my husband

Bonnie Willis's picture

Last week I wrote a column describing why I love Chick-fil-A. I did not think I was writing anything particularly controversial.

Following the column’s publication, as I do every week, I went online to read if anyone had posted any comments. In the past, I have received maybe two comments for a given column, and feedback from neighbors. Imagine my surprise when I went online Friday and saw 91 comments!

Part of me thought, “Cool! People are engaging in discussions.” But, as I read through the comments I noticed people weren’t really dialoging as much as they were trying to assert their own point of view.

For those of you who were gracious and focused your comments on the merits/weaknesses of my opinion; made an attempt to try to understand an opinion other than your own; or simply shared what you did on Aug. 1, thank you. Comments such as yours encourage all of us to share our opinions and move closer to understanding one another.

For those of you who used my column as an opportunity to conflate the issues or demean the opinions of others, I want to share two lessons that I am continually learning from my husband when it comes to communication.

Lesson #1: We are on the same team.

Early on in our marriage, my husband and I got into a heated argument. To this day, I don’t remember what our disagreement was about. But, I do know that I was convinced that I was completely right, and he was completely wrong.

As my passion became increasingly evident, my husband stopped me and said, “Honey, remember no matter what, we are always on the same team. Everything I’m telling you is what I believe is best for us.”

I don’t remember if this changed the course of the argument that day, but I do know that to this day his words have stuck with me. I realized that someone can have a different point of view and not be the enemy.

Lesson #2: It is better to focus on the relationship rather than the argument.

As the person in our marriage who tends to be very literal about most things, I struggle with this lesson. I love a well-reasoned argument that is substantiated by facts.

However, my husband reminds me that life is about the relationships we build with people. And people are not static, objective entities. They are dynamic, emotional beings with presuppositions that may differ from my own.

As such, I am learning to truly listen to the heart-concerns of others when they express disagreement. Hopefully they will know that I cared enough about them to listen respectfully rather than simply fire back with my own arguments or talking points.

Again, I am a work in progress on this one.

In this political climate and season, I believe these two lessons are good reminders of how we ought to engage one another.

First and foremost, we ought to remember that we are neighbors, fellow citizens of Fayette County, and Americans. In other words, we are on the same team — even if we have differing political views.

Second, we ought to remember that we will have differing opinions from time to time, but if we focus on winning the relationship rather than the argument, we are more likely to be heard and less likely to say things that are hurtful and mean-spirited.

As I have said to my children, “It’s OK to express your opinions, but there is never a good excuse to be unkind.”

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]


ctkcec's picture

David Epps

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