I meant to talk about this a while back, but I wasn’t able to. Here goes:
I often hear the idiom “actions speak louder than words”. While anyone regurgitating that fun fact may be of a more passive nature than someone who just takes a swing at their aggressor, it’s safe to assume that the phrase would apply to conflict, if violent people wanted to articulate exactly how they felt before doing anything. But for me, your choice of words in conflict is a pivotal “action” while inciting a fight.
The article I linked above was written at the beginning of the month by Professor Pennbacker of the University of Texas. I’d like to focus on this quote:
The graceful-I versus the sledgehammer-I. Not all I-words are alike. The graceful-I, often associated with the use of hedges, is one where the person is subtly acknowledging multiple perspectives. Phrases starting with “I think that..”, “I wonder if..”, or “It seems to me that..” are all examples where the person is implicitly or politely making a request or an observation. “I think it’s cold outside” (as opposed to “It’s cold outside”) is actually saying “I know that there are many views on this matter and I may, in fact, be wrong. Indeed, when you go outside you might find it a bit warm but I personally felt that it was a bit cold outside. But I don’t want to intrude.”
A few years ago, I took part of a conflict resolution program developed by students and faculty from Columbia University. It involved having the two argumentative sides talking out their problems and then signing a contract saying they will definitely never fight again. While I found that part kind of fruitless (so much so that I never cared to actually apply what I learned to peer arguments), I thought a different part part where we discussed about language was more important than the whole.
In the Columbian model, all second-person pronouns were considered “sledgehammer” pronoun: you’d never be able to accuse someone directly for the strife they’d caused. Instead, you’d begin by talking about how you feel in an attempt to get the other party to empathize with you, hence the graceful-I.
Consider an ex-girlfriend was talking beef about you behind your back, and you didn’t think that shit was cash at all. Let’s say she called your current girlfriend slutty and you desperate, and you took offense to that because you care about your girlfriend, and stuff. Well, come face-to-face with your accuser, your first instincts are either to reply with insults, or to tell her off. Your sentence will probably begin with “you”, putting her on the defense immediately.
If you were to instead say, “I feel…” and then tell her how she makes you feel while resisting the urge to spread the sarcasm on thick, the Columbian University model of peer conflict resolution suggests that the level of terrible incident will decrease. The model also suggests there be a moderator in case things get out of hand, so bring your friends trained in peer psycho evaluation along if you’d like.
The tricky part is to stop yourself from saying something like “I feel like you’re being a beyotch” or “I feel angry when you run your dumbass face off and I hate you.” To aid in softer sentence structure, you should take this test. You may be pretty surprised with the results and learn something about first-person singular, graceful- and sledgehammer-I words.
According to the model, the nicest way to go about explaining your dilemma to your accuser is to begin with “I feel insulted and a little hurt, and I don’t feel as though I or my girlfriend are being given a fair etc, etc.” This establishes that you’re upset with the petty insults without resorting to your own. Obviously results vary – it’s suggested some time distances all parties from the pain to the resolution. Unfortunately, I can’t find the teachings on any website, although CU has a pretty hardcore program, which is apparently one of many. Having not seen Conflict Resolution Network students in action, I can’t say I have first-hand experience as to how practical their techniques are beyond the distilled version I learned some years back. But the use of dialogue is a big step in their program, as I always felt it should be in basic human form when solving problems.
Actions speak louder than words, you know?