“You mean, you want me to treat you like the man on the street?” That’s a quote from a wife to a husband in a counseling session. Her husband’s reply was, “Well, yes.” Then there was a long silence while this statement settled in with all of us. I spoke next, “What does it mean to be treated like the man on the street?”
The husband then explained. Paraphrased, it went something like this.
- You greet him warmly.
- You treat him with respect, even when you disagree.
- You give him the benefit of the doubt—that his intentions are good.
- You ask him questions meant to draw out his thoughts and feelings.
- You ask for clarification instead of jumping to conclusions.
- You share the space in a give and take manner.
- You leave the encounter with a virtual tip of the hat.
Of course we don’t have as complex a relationship with the man on the street as we do with the man (or woman) we live with. In fact, our behavior tends to get sloppy around those with whom we are most familiar, so it may be hard to live by the above creed at home. Still, it’s hard not to see the common sense and wisdom in these principles.
After some discussion, it was easy for this couple to agree that they should be treating each other like the proverbial man (or woman) on the street. Although a simple, common sense idea, it was not always easy for them to employ it during a heated exchange. However, when revisiting a difficult issue, they could recalibrate and use these guiding principles to help them better navigate the conflict.
You cannot have effective communication without demonstrating mutual respect, and you do not have to agree with the other person to show respect. This is as basic as it gets. Think about it—if you are in a heated conflict, does the situation ever improve without one or both people coming from a place of respect for the other?