Image by Amarpreet Singh

When couples differ, they don't listen, especially when they are experiencing emotions. And when they try to talk it out, they resort to the communication violations -- "you"s (telling the other person about them), over-generalizations, and emphasizing the negative. These lethal mistakes make for further feelings of disconnection and alienation. The difference doesn’t get resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. At these times people definitely are not abiding by Attitude Reconstruction's Four Rules for effective communication.

Before I describe how to simply and successfully resolve any-size impass, I'd like to review the Four Communication Rules.   

  1. The First Rule is "talk about yourself."

    This is our domain. It's a big enough task to take care of ourselves. So believing it's our duty to comment on or interpret others, only diverts us from focusing on what's true for us, about us. It's appropriate to share what we feel, think, want, and need. This brings closeness, as we reveal information about ourselves. Although it can take some time to determine what we really believe, feel, or want.
  1. The Second Rule is to stay specific and concrete.

    That's what we do with everything from music to architecture to computers; and what we must do when communicating. When we stay specific and concrete, others can understand what we're saying -- the topic, the request, the reasons, and our boundaries. It brings peace.
  1. The Third Rule, then, is kindness.

    Compassion fosters love. It can take the form of offering appreciations, praise, focusing on the positive, and sharing gratitude. It also means looking for win-win solutions.
  1. The Fourth Rule is simply to listen.

    That means seeking to truly understand what someone is saying and encouraging their speech. Almost no one feels listened to enough! Listening is a practice that brings closeness. The next section will elaborate on this essential skill.

Sticking to these four rules is at the core of the simple way to resolve any size disagreement. The inability to reconcile differences extinguishes love that once burned brightly. It's not just intimate partnerships that are destroyed by not being able to resolve conflict. Business associates, neighbors, friends, and colleagues are affected as well. In each case we have a choice when conflicts arise. We can fight, give in, deny, and avoid, or we can cooperate, collaborate, negotiate, and accommodate.

How to Resolve Any Difference

Reconciling divergent opinions, needs, and viewpoints can happen gracefully with commitment to teamwork and by abiding to the Four Communication Rules. Regardless of the situation, the goal is to create a solution that's workable for everyone and connects rather than separates.

Small details or big issues, no matter! Two steps are all you need to resolve any difference and restore harmony and good feelings. If you do Step One well, Step Two will be easy - even fun. This model works for any number of participants. Keep it handy especially when tempers flare and discussions stall.

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two steps to resolve any differences

Step One: Exchange views about a specific issue until all feel understood.

This is accomplished by alternately talking and listening for a preset amount of time -- such as two minute blocks. (Your phone or a kitchen timer is very helpful.)   

You're not looking for a solution in Step One. There is a tendency to skip to finding a solution without laying the foundation and honoring  everyone's position. You're just explaining what's true for you about the one specific topic that is on the table. This initial step is called "trading time." Say everything you need to now. Once you move on to step two, why you believe what you do is off topic. This first step can be time-consuming so keep at it. It's a challenge to articulate thoughts so you feel understood by another person.

Keep alternating until neither person has anything more to say. That might mean ten rounds! Although you don't have to agree when you listen, you must recognize that all positions are equally valid. If communication violations occur (the opposites of the three speaking Rules: "you"s, over-generalizations, and unkindness) get out your matador’s cape and don't attack back. Gently remind the person to speak about himself or herself so you can understand them.

In this process an emotional outburst might occur. If it does, take an agreed-upon amount of time for a breather - a few minutes or even a few days. When you get back together, first address the specific event that triggered your outburst by trading time on that topic. Once the specific event is handled, go back to talking and listening about the original issue.

Truly understanding each other can be a bit of an issue-maze: as you talk and listen, new topics may emerge. Note them so they can be discussed at a later time, but resist the urge to throw new issues on the table and complicate matters unless you both consider the shift helpful. When each person feels his or her position on the chosen topic is understood by the other, step one is done.

Step Two: Together, find a workable solution that honors all parties.

"Integration" seems like a very synergistic word to use when talking about compromise, but that's exactly what I'm suggesting. You must integrate all points of view in Step Two in order to find a great solution. Your attention stays exclusively on seeking the best win-win agreement.  

Step two is not the time to revert to espousing your grievances or challenging others, proclaiming who's right and wrong, or using threats and intimidation. It's not about rehashing your opinion of what happened in the past or interpreting the other person's behavior.

Relish in this creative dialogue about finding sound solutions that are acceptable to all, right now and for the future. As for what a good agreement looks like, it should combine the ideas of everyone concerned. It does not mean "your way" or "my way," but some way in the middle.

Using the goal of connection as a guide, ask yourself these questions:

* How can we find a middle ground between our differences?

* What is a workable solution?

* Is the position I am proposing, or agreeing to, coming from selfishness or love?

If there are bumps in the road, try adding in "trading time" to step two. You'll be surprised by how many alternatives you come up with. Collect every idea and extract the merits and liabilities of each. After listening to all suggestions, brainstorm to find the best blend of positions. Remain open, stay specific, build on each other's suggestions, and trade time when the discussion gets lopsided. Break big problems down into manageable pieces. Keep talking, and keep listening.

Final Tips to Help You Achieve a Win-Win Solution

Clamming up like a shell or becoming the loud bully isn't going to win you any merit points nor compel others to find a happy solution. Focus on teamwork, putting the "we" first and personal desires second. Sometimes surrendering your own wants and needs is necessary for the good of the whole.  

If you normally give in, consult your intuition before acquiescing to another person's suggestion. Persist until you arrive at a win-win solution. Workable solutions that honor everyone are possible. If you can't find one, shelve the topic temporarily and set a specific time to resume the discussion, or bring in a neutral third party.

This two-step process is so simple that it calls for a review. Try it next time you encounter a differing opinion, viewpoint, need, or want. I think you’ll like it.

two steps to resolve any differences

©2024 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.

Book by this Author: Attitude Reconstruction

Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.

book cover: Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life  by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.With practical tools and real-life examples, this book can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with joy, love, and peace. Jude Bijou's comprehensive blueprint will teach you to: • cope with family members' unsolicited advice, cure indecision with your intuition, deal with fear by expressing it physically, create closeness by truly talking and listening, improve your social life, increase staff morale in just five minutes a day, handle sarcasm by visualizing it flying by, carve out more time for yourself by clarifying your priorities, ask for a raise and get it, stop fighting via two easy steps, cure kids' tantrums constructively. You can integrate Attitude Reconstruction into your daily routine, regardless of your spiritual path, cultural background, age, or education.

For more info and/or to order this book, click here. Also available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of: Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT)

Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.

In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education.

Visit her website at