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A few years ago I got my master's degree in conflict and peace studies. In the introduction class, the instructor began with a story that, to me, distills not just what we need to do when trying to resolve a conflict, but what we should do in all of our interpersonal interactions.  

There was a mother and two daughters. They had one orange, and, of course, both of the daughters wanted the orange. Being a fair and balanced parent (and channeling Solomon), the mother cut the orange in half, and handed a half to each daughter. She leaned back against the sink, crossed her arms and her legs, and waited for the "thank you's." Instead, she got such sour faces that you would have thought she had transformed the orange into a lemon.

Before sending them to their rooms without any supper, the mother had a novel idea: to ask each daughter why she had wanted the orange. Daughter A said that she had wanted the rind for a cake she was baking. Daughter B said that she had wanted the orange to make juice. If the mother hadn't cut the orange, but had asked them first, she could have given the orange to Daughter A first to grate the rind of the whole orange, and then handed it to Daughter B to make juice from the entire orange. They both could have been happy; and you know when the children are happy, the mother is happy (well, generally).

The moral of the story: Don't assume, ask questions.  

This is especially important in an argument because we are generally so focused on our point-of-view that we can't even imagine that the other person has any sane ideas in his/her head (if they did, wouldn't they be agreeing with us?). But even in everyday discussions, it might be worthwhile to pause in your comments and thoughts, and pay attention to what the other person is saying—and why she is saying what she is. Asking "why" could be a good tactic in trying to understand someone because oftentimes they don't know why, it's a reactive idea or a status quo idea, and getting them to understand the reasoning behind a thought or action could help her as much as you.  

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