Read the Room

Couple arguing

Jack and Eileen were arguing at home when Jack attacked Eileen, Eileen reacted, and Jack said, “Let’s end this.” When they processed this interaction in couples counseling, I gave them feedback about how both of them could have been more effective. When couples are discussing issues in my presence, I routinely give feedback about how to communicate more productively.

I told Jack and Eileen that eventually they may be able to give feedback to one another, but that a more advanced skill is to read the room. When an individual makes an attacking comment, their partner typically responds defensively. This defensive reaction can give us feedback that one could have been more skilled in their initial statement.

Many years ago when I did individual counseling, I routinely gave direction to my clients. If one of my clients responded defensively, that suggested that I could have been more skilled in my communication. This is true for each of us.  If your partner responds defensively, communicate differently—read the room.