Always and Never

9 Jun

Are there words that are so BIG that they get in the way of having a meaningful conversation?

That’s what ”always’ and ‘never’ can be.

Have you ever been in this situation? Someone is telling you a story, perhaps because they are annoyed with their child, employee, elderly parent, dog, whoever … and suddenly it pops out. A ‘never’ or ‘always’ phrase like:

POSTER-ALWAYSNEVER-MED“Ryan is always late” or “Becky never turns her homework in on time” or “My dad always yells at his caregiver.”

At the heart of the remark is their frustration about the situation, whatever it is. Adding the word ‘never or ‘always’ contributes an entirely different dimension to the story, right? It makes it even bigger – beyond what they are describing.

This happens often in mediation … only people are directing these words towards each other. Can you imagine what that feels like? On both the giving and receiving end? It can be a real communication stopper.

What now? What to do?

As a mediator, the first thing I do is to acknowledge their emotion … whatever was expressed. So perhaps I would say, “I hear you saying that you are angry when your dad yells. Could you share an instance when this happened?”

Asking for specifics requires the person to share more details about one instance of the behavior. This can move the conversation from the realm of vague references to a concrete example. The person may realize that it doesn’t always happen and maybe the other person isn’t the ‘monster’ they first described.

On the other hand, it can also give the ‘offending’ person a specific example to discuss … to perhaps provide further explanation, offer an apology or improve upon in the future.

The bottom line is that an impartial mediator can get at those things. If the parties are on their own, a communication stopper can do just that …. STOP a conversation in its tracks.


“Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use. ”

Wendell Johnson

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