When arguing with your partner, chances are you’ve got your go-to techniques. You use I-statements, choose your battles, seek a middle ground. You tend to assume good intentions and do your best to keep a cool head and focus on resolving the conflict. Right? Right.
But there are those times when you feel like you’ve been arguing about the same thing for what feels like hours and no one is budging and you’re tired and hungry and OKAY I’M SOR-RY. CAN’T WE JUST STOP TALKING ABOUT THIS? Chances are, this outburst just made everything worse.
It happens to the best of us. A better tactic to use the next time you find yourself in such a situation: deploy LARA. The LARA method is a communication technique meant to keep you focused on basics of good communication so that you and your partner (or whoever you’re arguing with) can attack the problem and not one another. Keep it in mind and, chances are, those big arguments will be much more civil.
So, What Is The LARA Method?
LARA was developed by Bonnie Tinker in the early 1990s. Tinker was a scholar and Quaker leader who noticed a need to teach others to engage in difficult and emotional conversations around sexual orientation. It has since become a staple ingredient in many diversity dialogues.
LARA is about creating a safe space in a conflict where different perspectives, emotions, and experiences can be explored with respect. An acronym, it stands for:
- Add Information
By managing each step with intention, LARA helps expand the conversation past people’s well-defended walls and defenses, notes therapist Erica Taylor, LCSW. It’s purpose is to help build a welcoming environment filled with reciprocal empathy, trust, and understanding.
At the end of the argument, maybe you’ll still disagree with your partner. But deploying LARA makes it’s more likely that you’ll be walking toward a united resolution that’ll feel good for both sides.
How The LARA Method Works
The purpose of LARA is to help reduce tension and bring forth a space where open and transparent communication can happen. While composed of four simple steps, each requires attention and focus. Here’s how it breaks down:
- Listen: There’s a profound difference between listening to understand and pretending to listen so you can jump in with your response. As you’re attending to the conversation with deliberation, pay attention to their feelings without attempting to change anything. Look at their body language and try not to miss out on what they’re saying. Don’t just react to their surface-level statement but seek to understand the meaning behind their words.
- Affirm: When you want to steer the conversation positively, you have to connect with your partner to make that happen. So, it’s important to nurture a genuine desire to recognize where they’re coming from, especially when you don’t agree. Adding a sense of gratitude for their authenticity — i.e. “Thank you for being so honest with me, I know it’s not easy to be so open about something that hurt your feelings. What I hear you saying is…” — will help them relax and make them more likely to hear you out too. Something else to consider is to affirm their values, i.e.: “We both agree that we love our kids and I sense how strongly you feel about your perspective. Tell me more about what you’re feeling...”
- Respond: After you’ve demonstrated that you’ve been listening, it’s time to share your opinions and feelings on the points they’ve made. Here, don’t frame the conversation in right or wrong. Instead, look to engage in a respectful manner. With LARA, responding happens in a multi-pronged way; you might paraphrase what they say or ask follow-up questions to make sure you get their point. With this step, it’s important your partner feels like you honestly care and want to know where they’re coming from without attack, shame, and judgment. Don’t label anything or put words in their mouth.
- Add Information: When you’ve asked enough open-ended questions to understand their concerns, you can now bring your side to their conversation. This looks like sharing why you feel the way you do, offering a potential solution to the problem, or expressing your own experiences or perspectives with a personal story or opinion.
While you’re learning how to communicate differences with LARA, you can both take turns so you can ensure equal airtime and model respect on both sides.
How LARA Helps De-Escalate Conflict
If you’re not able to get past the tension, you might dig in your heels or ignore the issue until you get sucked into the same fight a few months later.
LARA helps nip the problem in the bud because you’re able to speak your mind clearly, check for understanding, and then ensure the response is based on what is understood. “It allows for individuals to attack the problem versus each other,” says Taylor.
“This can help both parties understand one another better, identify underlying issues, and work through disagreements in a positive way,” says clinical psychologist Carolina Estevez, Psy.D. “Having the skills to de-escalate conflict not only helps relationships stay strong, but it also helps us grow closer together as we learn to trust one another more completely.”
When To Deploy LARA
You can use LARA in any situation where you want to feel heard, create understanding, or resolve a conflict. Estevez points out that it’s a great way to communicate with kids.
“With your kids, it can help facilitate open dialogue between the two of you while also teaching them valuable skills they can use in their own relationships,” she says.
No matter the situation when introducing LARA, Estevez advises being mindful of how you phrase your request.
Instead of suggesting that your partner needs to change their behavior or attitude, focus on owning your feelings and needs and being vulnerable about creating a mutually satisfying outcome.
“Ultimately,” says Taylor, “LARA's approach to problem-solving helps create a safe space for meaningful conversations that lead to greater understanding and connection.”