Earlier this week, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta deftly pointed out  the difference between constructive criticism, and a personal attack when he wrote an open letter to fashion critic Cathy Horyn in Women’s Wear Daily. I applaud Mr. de la Renta for the aplomb in which he communicated his displeasure in their “cat(walk) fight,” and this got me thinking about how I interact in my own professional, and personal relationships. Business is business, and I’m usually able to detach emotionally, but personal relationships? Not so easily.”

Cat(walk) fight

Not all of us are born with crocodile skin, so the saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is a complete and utter fallacy! I’m unlikely to let the words of a stranger effect me, but words used as missiles by someone I love and trust can do as much emotional damage, as the physical damage the real thing would do. Sometimes we get angry, and we say things we wished we hadn’t. All relationships go through ups and downs, and sometimes arguments are unavoidable, but did you know there is a right and wrong way to argue?

Did you know there is a right and a wrong way to argue?

In fact, this advice would be at the top of my list of things I would say to my twenty-five year old self. I admit it’s much easier to say than do, and I’m still a work in progress, but this is what I have learned so far:

Don’t react: Gerard Depardieu and Julie Anne Rhodes on set

1). Stop, take a deep breath, and don’t react. Take a time out if you can’t let go of the anger yet, and respect the other persons’ need for this if they can’t either. Agree to disagree until you have both cooled off. It is much better to give each other space, than it is to damage a relationship with hurtful words misguided by anger. Once that bell has rung, you cannot un-ring it!

Choose your words wisely

2). Choose your words wisely. Reducing oneself to lashing out with name calling is highly destructive, and unacceptable behavior. Think about why you are upset. Now, how can you describe your grievance in a rational, and preferably non-emotional way? Stop disconnecting between your feelings, and your ability to iterate them with the vocabulary you’ve hopefully achieve by adulthood.

Don’t shout: you can’t communicate your point of view, if no one is listening

3). If you know me well, you know this is a BIG one for me, but don’t shout. Let’s face it – we raise our voices, because we feel like we are not being heard, but most of us respond to being shouted at by shutting down. You can’t communicate your point of view, if no one is listening.

Tone: do you want to be right, or do you want to be understood?

4). Choose your tone wisely. You probably feel you’re right, and they’re completely wrong, but isn’t communication the goal? Using an indignant or condescending tone is disrespectful of the person you are trying to communicate with, and will likely yield the same result as shouting. Do you want to be right, or do you want to be understood?

Forgiveness: Kiss and make-up

5). Always take a hard look at your own part in precipitating the disagreement. “It takes two to tango,” and rarely is it otherwise. Be willing to take responsibility for your part. Learn to forgive both the other person, and yourself, if you want to be able to move past this together. Kiss and make-up!

Five tips to healthy arguing: advice I would give my twenty-five year old self

We are all human, therefore we make mistakes – it’s how you handle them that matters. It’s okay to have disagreements, but learning to communicate constructively is the key to a healthy arguments, and long-lasting relationships. What advice would you have for your twenty-five year old self?

Mandarin Kale Salad with Hearts of Palm & Toasted Sunflower Seeds

PS. Another piece of advice I’d share with my twenty-five year old self, and anyone for that matter, is to join the Personal Chef Approach™, so you can eat healthy yet sumptuous meals like this Mandarin Kale Salad with Hearts of Palm coming up on our this week’s menu plan. The completely fat free dressing is adapted from a recipe Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr. shared with me. Damn, he’s good!

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  • September 18, 2012
    11:47 am

    “Do you want to be right or do you want to be understood?” – That is going to stick with me for the rest of my life. Love this quote!

    I have a short fuse. A VERY short fuse. So to Julie Anne’s point here – I want to be UNDERSTOOD. Kids – “Please go to bed, Mommy’s tired and has a lot to do.” Instead of “GET—-IN—-BED—-NOW!”

    Advice I should’ve given myself when I was 25?

    “Wait for another interview with an ad agency. Temping in banks is for wimps.”

    “It’s okay to let your dad make mistakes. They shouldn’t be your mistakes. Go take care of yourself, David, and Merrill.”

    So those are the things I would most certainly tell my 25 year old self.

    Thanks for the fantastic post!! Very thought-provoking!

    Reply
    • September 18, 2012
      1:04 pm

      Your’e so much more caring than you give yourself credit for, Jodi! I don’t think you have anything to feel sorry about with the “get-in-bed-now” comment – we do develop a verbal shorthand with our children, and they should obey what we demand of them within reason. I think they can differentiate between a strict parent and an abusive one, and I honestly believe somewhere deep inside they know your firmness comes from love and caring about them.

      Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    12:16 pm

    Love this post, it is so much a part of my life right now, well, always. I tend to relive arguments and a friend gave me a piece of advice years ago – When something is bothering you, sit down and think about what has happened. Will it still bother you to the same degree three days from now, three weeks, three months, how about three years? If it won’t impact you three weeks from now, it likely won’t be bothering you to the same degree in three years. So, why waste all that emotional energy right now?
    I think about this a few times a week and try to follow the premise as much as possible. Right now, I’m taking a time out from a family relationship in order to give me time to pull my thoughts together and to put some distance between the family member and myself. Sometimes, family think they are helping but the truth is that they are getting too involved in your life and you need to put a stop to it pronto. I wish my 25 year old self had known about all this and had had the guts to stop some interactions from taking place. But, on the bright side, I survived, moved, lived and am still living life on my terms. Maybe a little more slowly than I would like, but hey, I am approaching 21 for the third time. I’m still smiling!

    Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    12:58 pm

    How very appropriate and how heart touching this is. I have a quick temper and although with age my fuse has grown slightly longer, it’s still not as long as it should be. I am a shouter and although I’m not as mean as I was as a teenager, I can have a sharp tongue and will say exactly what I’m thinking and that isn’t always good.

    What would I tell my 25 year old self? Seeing as it’s you ladies, I’ll take off the armour for a moment and answer that one:

    He isn’t worth your tears. If he’s done this once, he’ll do it again and it gets worse.

    You can’t get over what you aren’t clear minded enough to accept. You can’t drink or self medicate your way out of it.

    Forgive your best friend. It was a stupid argument over stupid things and you will always need him just as he’ll need you.

    You DO care. Stop trying to act like you don’t.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2012
      1:03 pm

      This is so touching, Rachel. Thank you for sharing this.

      Very brave of you to shed a few layers like this – I commend that.

      I think this calls for a PM party over at Jewels site, what do you say??

      Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    12:54 pm

    This is such a pertinent topic. I think most of us suffer with bad communication to some extent. It is never necessary for me to be right or to foister my opinion upon another. That is something I have gotten over with age. But, when I feel I’m being verbally abused, which sadly right now in my life I suffer with a great deal, I stuff it down until my nerves are so raw and damaged I do feel I’ve been in a prize fight. Then the lashing out, negativity and harsh behaviour oozes from every one of my pores. I will finally explode and when that happens it isn’t pretty. I am realizing that I need a new way of absorbing, reacting to or in this case not reacting to words thrown at me. Someone outside myself is simply an observer of my behavior or deeds. They truly have no idea what is going on with me internally whether it be my beliefs, self esteem, attitude, thoughts, etc. For me it is about making sure the energy I bring into a room isn’t destructive to myself or anyone else. I then have to expect that same thing from another and if their energy is too much I must breath deeply and walk out of the room, until I can address the attitude using my big girl words.
    We all have our learning curves and I think that is our purpose on earth to some extent. Figure them out, change what we need to so it serves ourself and humanity in a more positive life affirming way and then offer it back to the world.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2012
      1:06 pm

      Sounds like a perfect blog topic for you as well Laura! I hope things get better for you. If you ever need to vent, we’re here!!

      Reply
    • September 18, 2012
      1:14 pm

      Oh, do I know that feeling like you’ve just been ten rounds with Mike Tyson well – I’m sorry your going through this right now Laura.

      Sometimes it is better to find a time you can honestly address that person from a place of love instead of anger, and tell them that you are sorry they are so upset, but addressing you in this manner is not productive or acceptable.

      Be prepared to put some distance between you, if they are unwilling to change that pattern. You can’t control their behavior, but you don’t have to keep coming back for more of it. If the well is dry, you have to stop trying to find water there. Its up to you to take care of your own welfare.

      Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    1:23 pm

    Such incredible honesty and wisdom, Ruthee! Ditto to everything you said. I’d be willing to bet you are more short tempered with yourself than anyone else (I’ve known nothing but kindness, wisdom, and understanding from you in the time I’ve known you), so add in there “love myself more, ” because you truly deserve it.

    Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    1:26 pm

    Oh zing! This topic is something that I struggle with more than ever lately. When I’m angry, misunderstood or hurt I become a bull in a china shop. The hardest part is that I WANT to smash everything! I see red and total destruction is my goal. I’ve been trying over the past year to really step back and keep a level head, think about why I’m so bothered, and where I want to go from that point forward, rather than just blowing everything up. It’s hard! My advise to my 25 year old self would be: Don’t judge people by their potential, but rather by who they really are, right now. The proof is in the pudding! :)

    Reply
    • September 19, 2012
      5:13 pm

      SO true, and the other advice I gave my daughter (she must have listened, because she found herself a great man) as well as my 25 year old self is let them tell you who they are through their actions, not their words.

      Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    1:58 pm

    Wow. I would tell myself that depression lies. And that medication can help. And taking it isn’t a failure. It’s a way back to a life that’s worth living. (Sadly, it took me another 3 years to discover that. I was 28 when I finally chose to live rather than just survive my life.)

    Reply
    • September 19, 2012
      5:15 pm

      So, so SO IMPORTANT Cheryl! Thank you for posting this!

      Reply
  • September 18, 2012
    3:49 pm

    How timely! I was in a training seminar for Managing Interpersonal Relationships today, and communication was the topic. Everyone has a different style. I think the key is trying to always treat people how you’d like to be treated, and speak to them how you’d like to be spoken to. I live in a world of FAIL when it comes to doing that with my child. Always backing up and starting over with an apology.

    Reply
    • September 18, 2012
      4:08 pm

      “. I think the key is trying to always treat people how you’d like to be treated, and speak to them how you’d like to be spoken to” How true, Lane! The Golden Rule should be the first rule. I had no idea until I bought the girls a book about the Golden Rule that it was the one common ‘rule’ across all religions. Different wording but obviously the same meaning.

      Reply
  • September 19, 2012
    5:21 pm

    The golden rule is great advice, but we tend to communicate the way we were brought up, and sometimes those are unhealthy patterns we just accept as the norm. If you don’t know there is a more loving and/or effective means of communicating how are you to know you would prefer to be treated another way?

    Reply
  • September 20, 2012
    10:58 am

    Thank you Julian, Life has been teaching me/us some hard lessons lately that need to be learned yesterday… I would rather cliff dive than argue..it appears scary but if you can stick the issues and not attack your sweetie then you will both make it through together. The rewards I hear are so much more than the joy of jumping off cliffs.

    Reply

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