When angry, count four. When very angry, swear. – Mark Twain
I missed my train on Thursday evening of this week.
The long wait allowed me to people watch. I saw a couple fight bitterly for several minutes as they walked through the Union Station concourse, a few steps ahead of me.
The man and woman were clearly tourists, making no attempt to fit in with locals in their fanny packs and Niagara Falls shirts. When I first saw them, it was their body language which alerted me to the disdain they had for each other. He, so dismissive to everything his companion said, and she, growing more and more impatient with every wrong turn.
I muted my music.
They were very mean to each other. Every remark was peppered with blame, and they’d often cut each other off half way thorough sentences. It was clear they were extremely stressed about missing their train, which would weigh on even the nicest of people.
They weaved in and out of corridors, fighting up stream as nearly 20,000 commuters plowed through them; the masses were eager to get home. He’d routinely stop his long strides to tell her to hurry up, and she would half-jog up to him, before returning to her struggling pace under the weight of her enormous backpack.
She would often bark his name, even after he had clearly acknowledged her. They would both bang their hands to make their point and abuse each other verbally. We eventually made it back to the main concourse and I went on my way. As I left them to their own demise, I remember her storming off into the customer service line.
But why am I telling you this?
Many of us consider ourselves effective communicators, but conflict can skew even the most clear of intentions. I don’t think any of us reading are in a position to judge the two in my story, not knowing the full extent of what they were going through. What we can discern however, is just how difficult it is to hear when we don’t feel heard ourselves.
Take time to acknowledge what others are saying, especially during conflict. Listening is the easiest way to show someone you respect them, and you value what they have to say. It’s common sense with a level head, but that’s not when this advice is for.