Two Magic Words That Defuse Any Argument, According to a Mediation Expert

You and your partner consider yourselves pretty good communicators, but let’s face it—occasionally you both lose your tempers and sometimes, you wish you could have a professional mediator in the room with you. The new book Ask For More: Ten Questions to Negotiate Anything by mediation expert Alexandra Carter is the next best thing.

Our favorite tip from the book? There’s a two-word phrase that Carter uses daily with her husband that she calls “the ultimate open question.” And she not only loves using this phrase in relationships, but she says it works with kids, at work and in any other situation where you might want to defuse an argument and come to an agreement.

The two magic words: tell me.

“No question unlocks trust, creativity, understanding and mind-blowing solutions like ‘tell me,’” Carter says in her book. Basically, it’s all about switching perspective. “It helps us move from a black-and-white (and often biased) view of a situation to what some negotiation experts have called a ‘learning conversation,’ where we grow in our understanding of an issue rather than remain stuck.” Once you get un-stuck, you can work your way back from the disagreement into a place of mutual understanding—or at least gather some more information about where the other person is coming from. In fact, Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air told the New York Times that “tell me about yourself” is the best (and only) thing you need to say to open up an interview or conversation.

Another great way to use these two magic words: Instead of asking your spouse “how was your day,” say, “tell me about your day.” This way, instead of inviting the answer “fine” or “good,” you’re encouraging your partner to share absolutely whatever is on his or her mind about what happened today, whether it’s about his botched client meeting or the amazing corned beef sandwich she ate for lunch.

Now, repeat after us: “Tell me more about that corned beef sandwich.”

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Freelance Editor

From 2015-2020 Lindsay Champion held the role of Food and Wellness Director. She continues to write for PureWow as a Freelance Editor.