Reasoning With Irrationality

August 1, 2011


This is one of the Too Nice for your Own Good behaviors that I really need to get.  At first I thought Duke Robinson had it mixed up- that it was being nice to reason with irrational people.  After all, I wasn’t yelling at them. But he set me straight.  I love this chapter, because I have been so frustrated when trying to make people see “the truth”.  Some people get upset when we say or do things and tell us we intentionally were trying to criticize or control them. We were usually just talking on about stuff, but somehow triggered them into a state.  So we try to explain how we were not being critical, we were just trying to say or do such and such. But it doesn’t work. They still accuse us and are still upset and even get worse!  Drives me crazy!

Duke says that we are trying to use calm logic (and I am!) to both settle them down and straighten them out.  But here is the kicker: it is our niceness that assumes that we are talking to a rational person!  LOL.  We think if we are reseasonable, they will be too. Wrong! They don’t really care about logic or our defense.  They believe they are rational and we are attacking them. (I am not talking about physical or emotional abuse here.  If that is the case, please seek professional help.)

So here are the steps to take if you have inadvertently set someone off and they are being irrational:

1. Calm yourself down.  Don’t get emotionally hooked.

2. Generate empathy for them. Identify their feelings and reflect them back and validate them.

3. Express sorrow for their pain. (You can say, “I feel bad that you feel_____.” You don’t need to take blame.

4. When they are calm, you can ask for a dialogue about it all.  Let them talk while you listen and reflect back what you heard.  (Ask them to do the same for you if necessary, although I usually find that it is better to wait a few days before asking for my turn.)

The book has a lot more to say about this topic, but even so it is hard to be calm and not try to defend yourself for a number of reasons.  Most of all because they are being totally unfair. You are nice and would never ever do the things to hurt them that they accuse you of. I find that the most helpful thing for me to remember is that I have triggered a sore spot.  It isn’t really about me at all.  So I don’t need to defend myself.  Once I have heard them share how they feel and why, I usually have compassion for them. When I can reflect back how they feel to them, that validation usually causes them to feel better.  And then I feel better too.


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