A stunning amount of conflict in our house was solved with one simple change. The idea comes from a simple command, maybe you remember it:
“Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”
Most of us learned this famous quote in grade school. It was a dangerous and bold order from the Generals during the battle of Bunker Hill. The Continental Army had a problem. They were out-manned, out-trained, and out-resourced. They were terribly low on ammunition as the British charged forward to protect their hold on the colonies that made them rich.
The historic order meant they were to wait until their target was so close that they could not miss.
If they missed, it would be hand-to-hand combat or certain death. It must have taken courageous patience to wait as the British advanced.
Here’s how our family uses that concept to help us avoid unnecessary conflict.
See, the five of us live in a fairly small house. No matter what room we are in, we are never that far from one another. Our voices can easily penetrate through the thin walls, but often the sounds don’t register. The other day, in our living room, I was reading a book and my son was doing his homework.
From the kitchen, 12 feet away, my wife asked my son to walk our beagle, Scout.
I am confident that the sound waves of my wife’s voice entered my son’s ears, but her words had no effect on his brain. He was concentrating on ordering and comparing integers. He did not respond to her request and he did not walk Scout.
This created honest frustration on the part of my wife, who felt like my son was not listening to her.
In turn, I watched my son respond, defending himself in outline form.
He declared that:
1) she had not asked him to walk the dog,
2) that he was busy doing homework and not goofing off, and
3) he would have gladly ditched his homework to walk the dog if she had asked him.
As I watching them work through this low stakes conflict, I was impressed with the relational grace and persuasive skills each of them displayed. Yet the entire conflict was unnecessary. My wife never got my son’s attention and my son had not tuned his ears to hear his mother’s voice.
As conflicts go, this type of thing is minor.
Yet, the cumulative impact of unnecessary conflicts can wear us down.
Talking to someone before you have their attention is the equivalent of firing your weapon when your target is out of range.
In our house we have established the “Same Room Principle.”
It is really simple. If you want to talk with someone, you need to be in the same room. That is, you need to get their attention before you share.
Sometimes that means muting the TV or turning it off. It means we don’t shout from room to room, even when those rooms are small. It means I have to stop what I am doing, walk across the house, and engage my children.
It means that communicating with people is more important than the stuff I am doing.
I am amazed at how many conflicts can be avoided if we make eye contact and wait until we have someone’s attention before we talk.
Whenever my bride needs to talk with me about something really important, she naturally follows the Same Room Principle.
She tells me that she needs my attention.
We find a quiet spot free of distractions and she looks directly into my eyes. By doing so, the opportunity for me to misunderstand what she is saying is diminished.
The same concept applies to the simple things.
There are enough substantive and thorny conflicts that challenge our relationships, why allow the unnecessary conflicts to complicate our lives?
Our friends and neighbors can testify that the Same Room Principle is more aspirational than habit in our home, but we are working on it and the effects have been stunning.
When we follow the Same Room Principle, there is less conflict, fewer misunderstandings, and more peaceful interactions.
Try it for a week and let me know the results.
At home, at work, with friends, try not to talk to people until you are in the same room, have their attention, and see the whites of their eyes.