Everyone knows the feeling when their partner or parent pummels them with questions like, “Why are you coming home late? Where have you been? Why didn’t you do the chores I asked you to do?” Instant defensiveness. Instead of opening up a conversation, they tend to lead to arguments and/or one person shutting down entirely.
A better way to approach conflicts is through a method called “perception checking.” As communications expert and professor Jaime Hamilton explained in a recent TikTok, “It helps to understand people, and it is hands down the number one skill to help alleviate or minimize significant conflict in relationships.” Sounds pretty great, right?
Dr. Hamilton shared the three steps for executing this communication strategy:
- Observe the behavior.
- Come up with two possible interpretations of the behavior.
- Ask for clarification.
Here’s how this would play out: You notice your partner is consistently coming home late after work. You ask them, “Is that because they are giving you more work at the office? Or is it because traffic has become really bad? Help me understand what’s going on.”
Dr. Hamilton explains that this allows the other person to correct your perception if you are actually mistaken, and it also keeps them from becoming defensive since you aren’t using “you” language, like “You are always late.” People don’t want to be perceived incorrectly so this gives your partner the chance to verify and expand with something like, “Yeah, that construction project just started, and the traffic has been awful.”
This same technique could be used with your kids. Let’s say your teen seems a little down and isn’t making plans with their friends like they used you. You might say something like, “I noticed that you aren’t making plans with Drew anymore. Is that because something happened between you? Or are you just having to spend more time on homework and less time with friends?” When you come to them with two different possibilities, you’re showing them that you aren’t jumping to conclusions about a situation. This allows them to more easily correct your perception of what is going on.
Ultimately, people don’t want to feel judged, and by approaching conversations this way, we can keep our thoughts and assumptions out of the mix.