My wife doesn’t want to keep growing our business. She started this business three years ago and last year she brought me in to help because of my sales expertise. We have doubled in size in the last year and I thought things were going great. Now she wants to put the brakes on and I can’t figure out what to do about it. We argue constantly. I can’t get her to be rational about this. Do you have any ideas?
It sounds like you think you know what’s best for the business and for your wife. Do you? Or do you just know what you want to do?
When you say you argue constantly what I hear is that you believe that you’re right and that she is wrong. It also sounds like the two of you are in a power struggle for control. That may have something to do with why she doesn’t want to expand the business.
You didn’t say anything about your working relationship before she decided to put the brakes on. Was that a power struggle too? Emotion often gets in the way of rationality, so when someone refuses to be rational, I usually suspect that the issue is emotional.
Arguing is not the way to solve an emotional issue. Listening is.
Often, with the best of intentions, you can step on someone else’s toes and never notice their reaction to your behavior. Sometimes that’s because they keep their reaction under wraps and sometimes it’s because you just plain don’t notice that you’ve offended them.
And sometimes it’s even because your behavior seemed normal and okay at the time and she wasn’t even quite sure what she was reacting to. She may just know that something feels wrong and she tries to protect herself without even understanding why.
You may think you’ve been listening all along, but I often find that couples (and most people who work together) miss very important information that’s being shared.
What happens is this; she says something that you want to respond to. You think about your response while she keeps on talking. You miss important things that she says when you’re thinking about making your own point.
When you do make your point, she reacts to the first part of what you say by thinking of how to rebut it, and misses most the rest of what you say. The more this happens the less each one of you feels heard, and the argument gets less logical as it goes along.
Yikes, no wonder things go from bad to worse.
Really listening is sometimes harder than you think it ought to be. The first step is to decide you really want to do something differently. The next step is to hear her out completely. Don’t interrupt, even if you are sure she is wrong. Then summarize what you heard, and ask whether your summary is correct.
If the answer is no, try again. If the answer is yes, now you can state your own point. You may be surprised at what you learn.
There are many variations on this process. Active listening is a skill that’s taught in many communication courses. However, just slowing down, not interrupting, and clarifying what you have heard can make a big difference.
Once you start hearing each other you may find that you both have the same goal but disagree on how to achieve it. Listening will help you sort out both the emotional and logical reasons for your disagreement.
Learn more by reading Dare To Say It: How to Have Important Conversations that Build Working Relationships, written by Laurie Weiss, Ph.D., an internationally-known executive coach, psychotherapist, and author.
Thanks to Laurie for her contributions to this article.