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Text conversation between Nir Eyal and Shane Parrish about how to avoid arguments.

Text conversation with Shane

[10:26 pm] Shane Parrish: oh i mean[t] to tell you… I remember something you told me that I now share with everyone. It’s made a difference for so many.

The “something” he’s referring to is a simple question that my wife and I have posed to each other throughout our 22-year marriage.

[10:26 pm] Shane Parrish: I recall you and your wife sort of have a care rating from 1-10. The person who felt stronger got to decide…

[10:26 pm] Shane Parrish: It’s amazing how many people I know use that now… : )

We’ve been using this method for so long, I assumed it was common practice.

Here’s the gist:

Whenever you have a disagreement with someone you care about and who cares about you, pose this straightforward question:

“How important is this to you on a scale of 1 to 10?”

The size of the disagreement doesn’t matter. Whether it’s about dinner choices or naming your first-born child, this method helps avoid unnecessary disagreements and keeps relationships strong (most of the time, see exceptions below).

Why This Question is a Game-Changer:

Before adopting this approach, my wife and I often found ourselves in drawn-out debates. I was left wondering if she was arguing for the sake of it or if the issue genuinely mattered to her.

Recent research from Michigan State University and Harvard University highlighted a common issue: interpersonal “Projection Bias.” Scientists found individuals often project their own feelings and states onto others, even when the other person’s situation is different.

For instance, study participants who felt fresh or tired made assumptions about how others felt based on their own feelings, leading to misjudgments. Fresh individuals overestimated how tired ones felt and vice versa. This tendency to believe others perceive situations similarly to how we do can lead to conflicts.

The 1 to 10-question method helps counter this by offering a clear way to express feelings and priorities, reducing potential misunderstandings.

Consider this: when my wife and I moved into our home, we had differing ideas about how things should look. While I had strong feelings about certain aspects, like my workspace setup, other things mattered less to me. Instead of debating every minor detail, we’d check in with each other.

  • Her: “How do you feel about this couch color?” She’d ask, showing an online photo.
  • Me: “Not a fan, to be honest.”

Such responses used to frustrate my wife. I seemed dismissive of her choices without suggesting alternatives. This could lead to tension. But with our new approach, the conversation evolved:

  • Her: “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is a different color to you?”
  • Me: “Two.”
  • Her: “Alright, I value this at a 6, so I’ll go with it.”
  • Me: “Sounds good! How about Indian food tonight? I’m a 10 for a masala dosa.”

Using numbers provides clarity. Assigning a value to feelings and preferences makes understanding easier. It paves the way for constructive resolutions, strengthening the bond.

The Potential for Misuse and Trust:

This method shines in close relationships but isn’t universal. For instance, during a zero-sum negotiation, like selling a house, it’s not the right tool.

It best suits lasting relationships: spouses, children, close friends, or long-term business associates.
Like any strategy, there’s potential for misuse. One might exaggerate their feelings. This is a risk but also a litmus test.

Interestingly, animals exhibit similar behaviors. Dogs, for instance, expose their vulnerable underbellies during play. Any dog causing real harm gets ostracized.

The 1 to 10 question not only resolves disputes but also offers insights into a person’s commitment to the relationship.

At its core, this method fosters introspection and validation. Asking someone to quantify their feelings prompts self-reflection. Conversely, posing the question acknowledges the validity of their feelings.

But what if both parties feel strongly?

If there’s a difference of three or more points, the one feeling stronger usually decides. If both rate 8 or higher, it calls for a deeper discussion. Thankfully, such instances are rare.

My wife and I don’t use this method daily. Sometimes, weeks pass without mentioning it. Over the years, however, our bond has strengthened, turning arguments into productive conversations.

We don’t always feel the need to “talk things out.” Often, I gauge the importance of an issue before discussing it with my wife. If it’s not significant, I let it go, knowing she does the same.

Misunderstandings in relationships are common. Tools like the 1 to 10 question are invaluable, anchoring our interactions in mutual respect and understanding.

Sometimes, a simple question can be the bridge to deeper relationships. The question—“How important is this to you on a scale of 1 to 10?”—can clear away confusion and bring people closer together.

Try getting a feel for it yourself, by dragging the green markers:

House decor:
Dinner plans:

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