Anxiety disrupts people’s ability communicate with one another. That’s because intense emotions like anxiety interfere with logical thinking. Thus, overwhelming emotions can trigger black or white, all or none thinking. When the potential for conflict or disagreement arises, anxiety may cause you to think you must “win” the argument. And if you don’t win, you obviously must lose.

Unfortunately, such thinking makes you seem defensive in response to criticism and overly aggressive when you need to be critical of someone else. Both responses are based on an unwarranted assumption that people can actually know or “own” truth. But the complexities of human interactions are such that absolute truth is rarely within anyone’s firm grasp. After all, can you not think of numerous times in the past when you’ve been “sure” about an issue and later discovered that you were wrong? I suspect you can.

Your interactions with other people will go much more smoothly if you adopt a different perspective. Specifically, I suggest that you learn the value of giving up on the idea of winning and losing, right and wrong and owning the truth.

Two mirror image techniques have been of great value in helping clients turn their black and white communications into gray. And gray is an area that allows for finding common ground and compromise. I call these strategies “defusing” and “buffering.” But before I tell you what these are, I should note that they only work if you truly adopt the philosophy behind them–that no one owns the entire truth and that almost any two-way communication involves a rich array of truth, falseness and commonality on both sides if you look hard enough.

So here’s the first technique: defusing. I will blog about the second strategy in a few days.

Defusing: This technique consists of searching for at least a sliver of truth in virtually any criticism that comes your way, even if your emotions make you feel otherwise. Thus, if criticized, I recommend that you preface your response with phrases such as:

  • You could have a point.”
  • Sometimes that could be true.”
  • I can see how you might look at this issue that way.”

Please be aware that following one of these phrases, you can and should still state your position clearly. Thus, if someone said, “I think you did a sloppy job on this project,” you might respond with:

Perhaps that wasn’t my best work. I had thought I’d made a really strong effort. Can you help me see where the problems were?”

The phrase “Perhaps that wasn’t my best work” acknowledges the possibility of some truth in the criticism. However, you can still state that you had tried hard while opening your mind and heart to the possibility of having made some errors or falling a little short. I am not suggesting that you totally capitulate (unless of course the real data says that you should!).

Consider memorizing a few defusing phrases and try them out when you get criticized. You may just discover that you get into fewer arguments and that your relationships with others improve. Rehearse conflicts in front of your mirror before you try them. What may feel awkward at first could become part of you in the long run.