For two years, I’ve said that you can transform any communication from combative to collaborative by applying the Golden Rule, whether it’s when you’re dealing with a co-parent, co-worker, or anyone you find difficult. Yet when I explain the concept, people look at me like I must be from outerspace. I mean look around. We’re not exactly all about talking to each other nicely these days.  But do you really want to have a fight with everyone you encounter? Do you want every conversation to be a debate? Can’t we all just get along?

In my speeches I try to break this seemingly novel concept down to four basic steps. The idea is if you just follow the process, magic can happen! Sound too good to be true? Maybe. But I assure you I have applied these steps over and over again with great success. Let’s take a close look.

Step 1 – Focus on what’s important

Let me give you a hint here as to what is important. It’s the relationship you have with the person you are interacting with. The relationship may be important to you for a variety of different reasons. Maybe they are your child’s other parent, or a co-worker you’re at odds with, or that customer service rep you’re calling about a problem with your credit card bill. Whatever the matter, one thing is for sure, creating or continuing a conflict is not going to move you toward your goal.  So focus on preserving or restoring the relationship!

Step 2 – Acknowledge & Empathize

Now that you have your perspective straight, let’s set the other person at ease so that they are open to hearing what you have to say. Rather than just coming at them with a problem, why not thank them for taking time to talk to you or acknowledging their efforts in some small way. This is signal to the other party that you are not a threat and are safe to communicate with.

Step 3 – State your desire

Here’s where you tell them the outcome you are seeking. Not necessarily how to get that outcome. Just what it is. Be specific and describe the desired result without defending your reasoning for it or trying to convince them why it is the best choice. There will be opportunities for this discussion as things progress.  Right now, you just want to clearly communicate what you would like to see happen. If you stick to these parameters, it will leave room for the other person to engage creatively with you to solve the problem at hand.

Step 4 – Ask for their help

So you’re focused on preserving or restoring the relationship, you’ve acknowledged the other person and prepared them to hear what you want, and you’ve clearly stated the outcome you’re seeking. But you’re not done. They haven’t weighed in on it. You have no idea if they are on board, have objections, or will just ignore your request. You need to bring them back into the equation. Ask for their help in solving the problem. When people are asked to help, they usually like to give it. And at the very least, you’ve invited them to join with you to create a solution rather than just dictating to them what they need to do.

Then What?

That’s it. Four simple steps. Now you may be thinking, “What if they say no when I ask for their help? Then what?” Actually this is an opportunity. Now you have feedback from them to carry the conversation forward. Seek to find out why they said no. And remember to keep cycling through the four steps as the conversation progresses.

Rather than being triggered by their failure to agree to what you want, refocus on what is important, acknowledge their perspective and offer empathy to let them know you hear them and continue working toward an agreement. If communications start to break down, take a pause and suggest that you both think about what you’ve discussed so far and come back to it at a later date. Sometimes the other person just needs to step back from the moment and contemplate your suggestion.

Have you applied the golden rule to improve a relationship in your life? Tell me about it. I desperately need to hear I’m not crazy for thinking this will work for others.

Are you a divorced parent wanting to communicate better with your co-parent? Check out my book, Combative to Collaborative: The Co-parenting Code, available on Amazon in paperback, eBook, or audio book.  Also check out my co-parent coaching services available virtually.