“you never try to understand!”
“you always walk away when i’m talking to you!”
i take “you always…” or “you never…” statements as cues to tune out. ideally i wouldn’t, but that’s reality.
i stop listening because…i’m not a robot. i know i don’t always or never anything. instead, i sometimes do a variety of stuff to varying degrees. in other words, i’m human and constantly in flux.
but don’t get me wrong. i used to jump into the game with, “well, you never care what i say!” can you believe that strategy never worked? not once. it just turned the situation nuclear.
always/never statements inspire fear, obligation, and guilt in the recipient. do you want to make people feel that way? and second, do you want people spending time with you because they're too scared, obliged, or guilt-ridden to get away? of course not.
let’s examine how those statements turn toxic. we’ll use “you never listen to me!” as the example.
- it’s ineffective. the brain shuts off because it’s factually wrong, (rightly) pointing out, “i’m pretty sure i’ve listened to you at least once.” but thanks to a sweeping generalization, the speaker's trying to change the behavior of someone who’s discrediting everything they say.
- it’s accusatory, making the other person feel helpless, judged, and exposed, all of which are wildly uncomfortable.
discomfort, to that degree, creates frustration. from there, the only solution, in their mind, is retaliation and self-defense. that's how we arrive at, “i do listen!” or “i only ignore you because you always say stupid crap!”
see how quickly it spins out? there’s no solution, just escalated mud slinging, lemon juice poured into ever-deeper paper cuts.
- it’s incorrect. beyond the factual inaccuracy already mentioned, the always/never statement isn’t the real issue. the accusation “you never listen to me!” translates to “i don’t feel heard.” now we’re getting somewhere.
so, instead of using always/never statements:
- when you argue, get specific with your meaning. always/never are usually inaccurate for describing people. pointing to a concrete example gives others something to fix.
- get personal: as in, it’s about you. your emotions. “i feel [disrespected] when you [try and finish my sentences]…” does the trick. it’s barely about the other person. to put this in theater terms, if you were in a play with the other person, you’d be the star and they’d be busboy number 3.
when someone says, “i feel ignored when you forget what told you…” and you aren’t a sociopath, you probably think something like, “ah! what can i do? how can i fix this?” now you’ve entered proactive, solution-minded territory. because even though their pain is from your actions, there’s some breathing room. you don’t feel so boxed in and slammed with blame.
and if you’re on the receiving end of always/never statements, try these suggestions:
- get to the subtext. ask them what, specifically went wrong. sure, it takes sleuthing and you might feel like you’re doing all the legwork, while the other is just being a lame communicator. but do you know what’s better than arguing? nearly everything else. give it a shot.
- stay calm. if you stay focused and clear, their hysteria has no outlet and dies.
what's your experience with always/never arguments? how do you handle them? let me know in the comments!
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