Clarifying Questions Placate Detractors

Feeling misunderstood and as if we are not being carefully listened to is a reason why conflicts can turn ugly, suggests Psychology Today‘s Professor Todd Kashdan. To prevent ugly, unpleasant arguments (and to resolve uncomfortable negotiations) we should ask simple, clarifying questions:

If people show that they are curious and willing to learn more about someone else’s opposing view, this might be the key to diplomacy. That is, ask a single clarifying question about what another person’s view is about. […]

By merely asking for a single bit of information, the other person views us as more open-minded and warm. […] They view us as different from the typical person with a belief system that differs from their own. […] The other person feels as if we are paying attention and they don’t just feel good, they view us as a good person. […] When you show curiosity in what they care about, they show a greater willingness to gather additional information from you. In the end, they are more willing to negotiate and come to a compromise that benefits everyone.

Chris Yeh weighs in, saying that

Far too many in this day and age take a positional approach–establish your position, and advocate it as strongly as possible. But the positional approach is only optimal if the conflict or argument is truly a simple, zero-sum tug-of-war.

Far better to seek an understanding that lets you craft an outcome that maximizes overall utility. Even if you don’t get a significantly better deal, allowing the other part to come out ahead as well has major benefits for future interactions and your overall reputation.