I, like most people, get mad.
Maybe it’s because I saw my parents fighting when I was little, like most people. Maybe it’s because my natal chart shows that I’m a fire sign. Maybe I’m just an asshole.
But maybe, just maybe, it’s because I’m human.
We lose our tempers, we say things we wish we could take back, we act irrationally in the face of fear. It’s only natural, a part of our chemical makeup.
This is why, in an attempt to better know myself, I have made it my personal goal to figure out how to communicate—and I mean the good stuff that’s buried deep and hard to tap into, not the basic skills that are covered oh-so-briefly in primary school. I mean the kind of communication you have to unpack from the roots.
I’m digging deep into why other people’s actions affect us the way we are choosing to let them affect us.
And I’ll share a little trick that can help us communicate more efficiently too: live palms up.
Have you ever tried to be upset with open hands? And no, this is not a metaphor—I mean really, open your hands. Place your hands down with your palms up and try to be angry. I dare you.
This is because clenched fists are a defensive position, while open hands—palms up, not down—is a vulnerable position. Nonverbal communication, such as body language, is where most of our communication takes place. Noteworthy author Albert Mehrabian, who wrote Silent Messages (1971), conducted cross surveys and examinations of various communication experiments and coined the infamous 7 percent rule, theorizing that only 7 percent of human communication comes from the actual words we are speaking, and that 93 percent of human communication occurs through nonverbal means, like body language and tone of voice.
Learning to not only read the body language of those I’m seeking to communicate with, but also how to understand and accurately adjust my own, has pushed me toward a place of peace in many disagreements, arguments, and miscommunications. It has also aided in my becoming an excellent manipulator—but that is an article for another time.
Living palms up is a concept first introduced to me via Bobb Goff’s Love Does, a great book, which was—interestingly enough—gifted to me by my ex at Christmas time, right when we were trying to make things work…again.
You see, my ex is Christian; I am not. And, fair warning, this book is a Jesus-book. Despite my not being Christian (and still not wanting to be), this book stuck with me in a lot of ways. Essentially it is about God minus religion, which felt like the kind of idea I could get behind, and it gave my ex and I some solid ground to stand on while navigating and nurturing the kind of love we shared, despite major belief differences. Goff’s words taught me how to live palms up, and while I might not be besties with Jesus, I’ve learned how to communicate lovingly and openly—which is something I hope to share with others.
Life palms up has made all the difference—and here’s why:
I have learned how to listen to understand, not to respond. An argument is centered in the rebuttal, a miscommunication is centered in the effort put forth to find a mutual understanding. Wouldn’t you rather approach and navigate each potential argument as a miscommunication? To me, miscommunication sounds a whole lot nicer, and a whole lot easier to let go of, than argument. Arguments subconsciously cultivate grudges, while miscommunications shed light on the need to understand each other.
Listening to my partner, my family, my boss, or my friends—truly and honestly just to hear them—has made a difference in how I respond to them. Instead of sitting on the edge of my seat or ready on my toes to fire back, instead of being so concerned with making sure my side is heard, I just take a mother f*cking chill pill and listen up.
Listening to understand teaches us to let our guard down and drop the defense. Because when we’re “listening” but also preparing to defend our point of view, we’re not hearing sh*t. We aren’t concerned with what’s being said, we’re concerned with how what is being said is impacting us, which is a pretty self-centered way to solve anything, don’t you think?
When we listen to understand, we will walk away feeling happier and more knowledgeable, every time.
I now touch the person I am communicating with. When you’re in the middle of a disagreement with someone and want to scream a big ol’ “f*ck you” in their face, try biting your tongue and reaching for their hand. You might want to break their fingers, but remember that 93 percent of communication is nonverbal. And that includes communicating with our own damn self.
Honestly, I’ve low-key, life hacked my way into not reacting like a psycho during arguments, and it is by physically touching—in a nice way, of course—whoever it is that I want to mess up. When I am holding someone’s hand, touching their shoulder, or tickling their back, especially while I’m upset with them, I’m using reverse psychology on myself. My nonverbal communication is saying kindness even though my verbal is like, “Umm nah.”
Sentimental touch is exactly how I peacefully sat through a conversation where my partner clued me in on his infidelity and I ended up forgiving him, on the spot. That conversation is what led me to write and publish this article on forgiveness and healing, something that was and still is an incredibly intimate window into my relationship. Trust me, I am not a saint, but I’ve found it’s not so hard to force your own hand when you truly know what is best and healthiest for you—even if it’s easier to scream and throw a fit.
We know how to take the high road, so why don’t we just do it? Sentimental touch during difficult conversations helps us get there.
The last, and maybe most important, part of living palms up is learning that anger is a secondary emotion.
That’s right, we weren’t born pissed off at every Tinder date that catfished us or bailed on a date. We are not engineered to feel anger simply for the heck of it, like we are with happiness and love and joy. Nope, anger is reactionary my friends—and guess what, it’s no one’s fault.
If anger is a secondary emotion, that means it has a stem, something it is derived from. Anger is born out of a few emotions that all carry a root feeling—fear, pain, and confusion—which then leads to miscommunication. And while miscommunication has the potential to make us angry, it’s when we let that anger win that a miscommunication can become an argument.
Want to know when you definitely cannot get angry? When your palms are wide open, facing toward the sky. When you want to scream at someone to buzz off but you don’t because your nonverbal communication skills have tricked your mind into instead focusing on love, kindness, and understanding.
The takeaway is this: if you want to argue like an adult, don’t argue. Because an argument isn’t the easiest way out of a miscommunication—it’s taking a small disagreement and making it all about you.
When our palms are up, our guard is down—we hear to listen, and I mean listening to understand, with no rebuttal in sight. When we let our companion have their say, when we put their words before our own, we show them that our intent is not to defend, but to hear. And if we can do this, we’ll be amazed at how quickly things get solved.
Nine times out of 10, people just want to be heard, and when we can be that ear for someone, animosity dissolves. So live palms up—it’s the fastest road to understanding and the only way to “argue” like an adult.