A thoughtful young professional woman in a cityscape knows how to analyze a situation

How can you keep your judgment from getting clouded during a high-stress situation? What must you understand before you can resolve the issue?

George Thompson developed Verbal Judo to help people handle tense situations at work, home, and elsewhere. Not only do you need to understand the personalities involved, you must fully and accurately ascertain the scenario you’re dealing with.

Keep reading to learn how to analyze a situation using Verbal Judo principles and techniques.

How to Analyze a Situation

An important Verbal Judo tactic is to take the time to analyze the situation—whether it’s a confrontation with a customer, an accusation from a friend, or an argument with your partner—in much the same way that you work to understand the person you’re dealing with. You want to reach a resolution that satisfies everyone, and you can’t do that until you understand the issue. Thompson shares the following advice on how to analyze a situation.

1. Step Outside of Your Point of View

The first step in determining what’s happening is to consider the situation from your point of view and the other person’s point of view. Thompson explains that there’s the problem as you see it and the problem as the other person sees it, and you have to consider both when trying to identify a solution that will satisfy everyone. This may require you to exercise your skills in impartiality. 

For example, imagine you’re arguing with your partner over your finances. If they accuse you of overspending, you could respond by accusing them of being too stingy or of dismissing your needs—or you could think about how purchases that you consider necessary might not seem as urgent to them. You’re each looking at a different problem, and your joint task is figuring out how to solve both.

(Shortform note: It seems intuitive that imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes could help you understand what they think, want, or feel—or at least help you persuade them to your way of thinking, as Dale Carnegie argues in How to Win Friends and Influence People. But in recent studies, perspective-taking didn’t have the expected effect of helping people better understand each other: Trying to imagine things from another person’s point of view made study participants less accurate at guessing that person’s feelings or preferences. This suggests that just imagining how someone else might feel isn’t enough to really help you understand them and their point of view. But it might help you to care more about them and what they think.)

2. Consider the Other Person’s History

The second step in assessing the situation is to think about how the other person has ideas and a history that differ from yours. By pinpointing these differences, you can remind yourself that the other person isn’t misinterpreting the facts; they simply don’t approach the situation from the same place that you do. 

For example, in the argument with your partner about your budget, it might help you to remind yourself that your partner grew up with a very different socioeconomic background than you did. Remembering what it was like for their family to have less money while growing up might make them more cautious with their spending now. Conversely, your family’s more comfortable economic bracket probably contributes to your confidence in your savings and your comfort with spending more.

How Can You Understand Someone If You Don’t Know Their History?

It’s tempting to think it’s impossible to understand another person if you don’t have years of shared history (and sometimes even if you do). But the 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind explores how our intuitions and feelings about other people give us a powerful ability to understand them, even when we don’t have shared memories to rely on. In the movie, Joel discovers that his ex-girlfriend Clementine has undergone a procedure to erase him from her memory. He decides to erase her, too—and regrets it.

Film writer George Toles explains that Joel’s perceptions and memories of Clementine represent her only imperfectly. But, as Joel’s memories of Clementine disappear, he can still understand who she is. Toles writes that the movie demonstrates that “the inventory of things I know about ‘you’ does not rationally, authoritatively, organize (or limit) my sense of who you are.” This point of view on intuition deepens Thompson’s idea that you can understand another person even if all you know about them is that they’re different from you, and even if you can only imagine their history and inner life.

3. Determine What’s in Your Way

The third step in figuring out what’s going on in a tense situation is identifying the obstacles blocking your path to a resolution. The other person might have beliefs or personality traits that keep them from agreeing to your ideas about solving the problem. Or they might be feeling strong emotions that will affect their decisions. Thompson writes that you can either find a way to step around these obstacles or directly address them. 

For example, you might learn that your partner feels that if you skip setting money aside for savings for a month, then you’ll never catch up. Once you understand this belief, you can address it, perhaps by sharing your plan to contribute extra to your savings account when you get your bonus next month. 

(Shortform note: Finding a way around the obstacles between you and the resolution you want in a conflict can sometimes require some improvisation, a principle demonstrated in many martial arts movies. For example, Jackie Chan’s characters often use whatever’s at hand as a makeshift weapon—a strategy adopted by the 2022 film Everything Everywhere All At Once. The movie’s highly choreographed fight scenes feature some outlandish weapons: dildos, a dog, and a fanny pack. No matter how stressful your job, you probably don’t have to fight off a villain who wants to compress the universe into a bagel. Still, experts say one key to improvising successfully is to let yourself explore unconventional ideas instead of judging them right away.)

4. Show That You Care About the Other Person 

The fourth step in ensuring you know what’s happening is demonstrating that you understand the other person and that you’re concerned about them and their well-being. Thompson explains that you should make it clear that you want to solve the problem in a way that’s agreeable to both of you. 

For example, you can explain to your partner that you want a budget you’re both comfortable with. You might apologize for not checking in with them about your planned purchase. And you might promise that next time, you’ll have a conversation to ensure you’re on the same page—and you’ll take the time to make the decision together if you’re not.

(Shortform note: A classic way people try to show others they care is by learning to speak each other’s “love languages,” introduced by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages. Many people have found the book helpful, but experts say the concept doesn’t hold up under scientific scrutiny. Research shows that most people don’t have just one love language, and there are more than five ways to express their love. Plus, couples who share a primary love language aren’t happier in their relationships than people who “speak” different languages. Some therapists think focusing on love languages can get in the way of asking yourself the most important question: How can you make the other person feel understood and cared for?)

How to Analyze a Situation: 4 Tips to Navigate a Tense Moment

Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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