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How to Save Relationships From Imploding
See how one sentence can make a difference in your relationships

by Jessica Benda / © 2022, Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

If an argument were a tennis match, many of us would tear right through the net during a frenzy of back-and-forth spatting.

  That’s a situation hundreds of Stanford students learned to avoid in one of the business school’s most popular electives for decades. Now the masterminds behind the course, David Bradford and Carole Robin, want everyone to know the secret to staying on “your side of the net” during an argument.


The solution

  The solution is one simple sentence: “When you do [insert action], I feel [insert feeling].”

  An argument has three pillars, which Bradford and Robin describe as “realities”:

  • Your intention and motivation (something only you can see)
  • Your behavior (something everyone can see)
  • The effect of your behavior (something which only the other person can see)

  If you make a comment that implies you know what someone else’s motives or intentions are, you’re over the net.

  “We think we know, but it’s really a guess,” says Bradford, a psychology expert who focuses on business leadership at Stanford.

  Bradford and Robin explained this [way of] thinking and other tactics from their interpersonal dynamics class—nicknamed “touchy-feely” by students—in their book, Connect. Robin incorporates these lessons into a program for Silicon Valley executives called Leaders in Tech.

  Crossing the net sparks defensiveness and leaves you vulnerable to endless rebuttals. You can say, “You just want to show how smart you are,” and the other person can say, “No, I don’t,” and then you’re stuck, Bradford explains. But addressing your own point of view—how you feel—is indisputable. The other can’t say, “No, you don’t,” because they can’t say how you feel.

  That’s where the sentence comes in. It can be hard to grasp at first. Sometimes, people slip into “I feel” without actually including an emotion.

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