©2021 Bill Eddy, LCSW, Esq.
The past two years have been stressful throughout the world, with endless Covid, endless crazy weather, and endless political tensions. Now that it’s the holidays, you would think that we could relax and enjoy each other’s company. But with Omicron, new vaccine and mask mandates, and everything else, tensions continue to run high. Yet we still want to gather together and do it peacefully. What could help us do this? I, of course, think that practicing EAR Statements will benefit everyone and help create a general atmosphere of peacefulness. (After all, our logo tag line is “the missing peace.”)
EAR Statements communicate Empathy, Attention, and Respect in less than a minute. About 90% of the time, an EAR Statement™ will calm any upset person, whether they’re angry, sad, or just frustrated. You can say a sentence that only includes Empathy (“I feel that way too sometimes”), or just Attention (“I want to understand, tell me more”), or simply Respect (“I respect your time with our daughter”) or all three.
For example, if you want people to wear a mask inside your house during a large gathering, whether they’ve been vaccinated or not, some people might object. You might give them an EAR Statement like the following (and have a sign near your front door: “Masks required”):
Friend (angry): “This rule is really stupid. You can do whatever you want at this house gathering. It’s your house!”
You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I can understand that this is frustrating: it’s harder to breathe, your glasses get fogged up, and we all look silly too (Empathy). I feel the same frustrations and respect your concern (Respect). But we are very fearful of another Covid spike and are willing to wear masks for now—and we ask that you do too. We’re glad you’re here and we want to catch up with you (Attention).”
Or suppose you’re on the other side of this issue and opposed to masks. You could use similar EAR language for expressing your point of view and the rules in your house.
You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I can understand your frustration with my opposition to masks (Empathy), and I respect your personal right to wear one (Respect). I’m glad to see you and want to hear what you’ve been up to (Attention). But I have a policy against wearing masks in my home and you’ll need to decide what you’ll want to do for today.”
While these examples show connecting in all three ways (Empathy, Attention, and Respect), even just one way might be sufficient. After all, a friendly tone of voice is often the most important part of an EAR Statement.
Vegetarian vs. meat is another common family and friend holiday topic ripe for conflict. For example:
Vegetarian: “I can’t believe that your house smells so strongly of meat dishes. You know I’m not just thinking of myself here. It’s unhealthy for you too, and the planet can’t support meat eating anymore.
You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I respect your concern about meat eating (Respect). I’ve cut down on my own red meat eating, although I still eat some and most of my guests do too. But don’t worry, we have a couple great vegetarian dishes, including my favorite eggplant dish. I want you to feel comfortable and satisfied with your meal today (Empathy).
Meat eater: “I see you don’t have any meat dishes here today! Are you trying to make me feel uncomfortable?”
You (in a friendly tone of voice): “I can relate to your concern about this (Empathy). I respect your opinion and still eat meat too (Respect). But I thought that there are so many vegetarians coming today that I would put out an all-vegetarian menu that meat-lovers can enjoy too. There’s meat-like sauces and veggie burgers too. Let me know what you think after you’ve tried everything. I’m interested in your opinion so I can decide whether to do this again (Attention). Thanks.”
Again, these statements include two or three of our ways of connecting with EAR Statements, but even just one may help. It seems that the key is to be friendly and acknowledge the other person’s concerns, even if you don’t agree with them. Create a sense of “us against the problem,” not “me against you.”
There are many more areas of potential conflict when family and friends gather together, especially in large groups. Politics is especially heated nowadays, but religion and other topics can be areas of controversy too. The reality is that no one is going to change anyone else’s mind in an argument. Nowadays, everyone’s mind is already made up and we all feel very strongly about our conclusions.
One approach to this reality at gatherings of family and friends is to post a sign which says something like this:
This is a Respectful Gathering
Tis the season to be jolly—and respectful! Let’s all have a good time and steer clear of hot topics that can cause discomfort to others, such as politics, religion, food preferences, people’s chosen lifestyles, and so forth. We’ve all been under a lot of stress the past two years, so a few days of peace and celebration are in order. If someone starts to discuss things that make you uncomfortable, just point to this sign.
Thanks for making this a pleasant time for all!
This is a short example of how EAR Statements can reduce conflicts and help people have a good time over the holidays. Empathy can be expressed with sentences like these, which show the ability to pay attention and experience similar feelings: “I can understand your frustration. I can see how hard this is for you. I can hear that this is not what you hoped for.” Just don’t say you “know” what the other person is feeling. Attention can be paid by saying things like this: “Tell me more. I want to understand your point of view. We can take our time to get through this.” Respect can be given by finding something you truly respect, like: “I respect the kind of work you do. I respect your commitment to solving this problem. I respect your point of view even though I see it differently.”
For examples of more EAR Statements in 27 conflict situations, please read my latest book and feel free to share it with others: Calming Upset People with EAR: How Statements Showing Empathy, Attention, and Respect Can Quickly Calm a Conflict (Unhooked Books, 2021). The more people who make the effort to use EAR Statements, the calmer our tense world will be.
Best wishes for the holidays!
BILL EDDY, LCSW, ESQ. is the co-founder and Chief Innovation Officer of the High Conflict Institute in San Diego, California. He pioneered the High Conflict Personality Theory (HCP) and is viewed globally as the leading expert on managing disputes involving people with high conflict personalities. He has written more than twenty books on the topic and has taught professionals in the U.S. and more than ten countries.