Jocelyn and Aaron Freeman lead Session 2 of the Multifamily Women’s Summit. Carrie Antrim, Co-Founder of Multifamily Women and Chief Operating Officer of Multifamily Leadership, introduces the Freemans as “relationship whisperers.”
“They just get it,” said Antrim.
The Antrim family has known the Freemans for a while now and can vouch for their abilities.
“They know how to take any relationship – romantic, children, co-workers, whatever it is,” said Antrim. “They’re not just fixing. You could have an amazing relationship and they’ll take it to the next level.”
Rather than sticking around for an interview-style conversation as Antrim has with previous guests, she simply turns the stage over to Jocelyn and Aaron Freeman to give their own presentation.
Aaron kicks things off by talking about the mental, emotional, and physical struggles people have been going through during the pandemic. He says shutdowns and restrictions have made clear how important relationships really are. Then, Jocelyn interrupts his speech, accusing him of taking her line in their demonstration, leading to a brief, awkward, and of course feigned argument.
They use that as a jumping-off point to bring up how often arguments, tension, and disagreements can happen in a relationship. Jocelyn says she doesn’t discourage confrontation; it’s important to talk things through. Rather, she wants to talk about the argument hangover.
That’s the awkward, tense period that follows an argument where people don’t feel as comfortable with one another or are harboring resentment.
“Think about how you feel when you get into some tension with somebody,” said Aaron. “Guilty? You feel upset, you distance yourself from them.”
Since people want to avoid that argument hangover, they limit themselves to two options: avoidance of particular topics, or avoidance of the person. In both of those cases, Aaron says, you’re missing out on the opportunity to connect more closely and more deeply with that person.
“That’s where the juice of life actually is!” said Aaron. “We can’t just go around avoiding because you miss out on the real opportunity. The real opportunity is relationships, because relationships – when you get down to it, whether it’s the money, whether it’s the business driving the revenue, what people are doing – success in your life comes down to relationships both in your personal life and your professional life. That’s where true fulfillment is.”
The Freemans handed out worksheets that include a portion where people can pick out a relationship in their own lives, then jot down notes on how to improve or strengthen that relationship. As people finish that exercise, they’re then told to blow up a balloon that was placed in front of them. Then, they try to hit the balloon back and forth to themselves without hitting anyone. From there, they turn to a partner beside them and share their favorite menu of all time while playing with the balloon. The purpose is to show the effect the distraction had on the quality of conversation. Those distractions aren’t inherently bad, but they do affect your ability to give your full attention.
Communication Personality Types
Jocelyn says people know the cliché, “Communication is key to all relationships” but aren’t provided with training in communications skills.
“Here’s the thing: it’s easy to say you’re a great communicator when people agree with you,” said Jocelyn. That’s called positional leadership. She points out that people have seemed to be in staunch disagreement quite frequently these days. “True influence is being a true masterful communicator in those moments [of disagreement].”
Jocelyn says it’s important to consider whether you’ve ever made people feel invalidated in their emotions, or if there’s a topic that a person feels they have to avoid.
“Avoiding conflict in the short-term builds resentment in the long-term and resentment is harder to repair than a healthy disagreement.”
“You’ve heard communication is key to relationships,” says Aaron, “but here’s what gets missed: communication is not one size fits all.”
There are four communication personality types. Those start with two base dimensions.
The first is your level of assertiveness to how reserved you are.
“Assertiveness does not mean that you just actively express your complaints or what you don’t like, or that you talk a lot,” said Aaron. “Assertiveness on this scale is your ability and your openness to proactively express your feelings, your needs, and desires in your relationships.”
The other dimension is flexibility to inflexibility.
“This is your ability to adjust your perspective,” explained Aaron. “Your ability and your openness to adjust your own point of view of how you see a situation, adjust your behaviors, and adjust maybe your role, depending on arising challenges or circumstances.”
Those dimensions combine to the following communication breakdowns:
This is what Jocelyn says she defaults to.
“We process our thoughts and emotions through talking. But because of the inflexibility piece, we can tend to be more rigid to our perspective, and, if we’re not conscious of it, can somewhat reject the other perspective, or argue it, or not be willing to see it that way.”
Another problem that comes with this communication style is that assertive-inflexible people can tend to raise their voices or sound somewhat more aggressive if they don’t feel they’re being understood. That can lead people to feel dominated in conversations.
This group also processes thoughts and emotions by talking them through aloud, but can be more open to another person’s perspective.
“Here’s the key thing, because people would think, ‘Oh, this is the best type if you’re having this flexibility,’ but assertive-flexible people can, when they’re not aware, commit to things and not follow through,” said Jocelyn.
She warns, those people might say yes to something out of compliance rather than actual commitment.
Aaron says he defaults to this sub-group.
“The reserve dimension processes thoughts and emotions more silently or on your own, but then can have this fear that if you share it, you might be disagreed with. Someone might not see it your way. That’s the inflexibility piece – ‘I’m pretty sure I’m right about this.’ Then, if conflict arises, you may share your thoughts or ideas one time and think, ‘I shouldn’t have to say that again. Said it one time already, you should already know!’”
This group might be more likely to bottle things up inside and let things out in bursts.
This group still processes things on their own, but still wants to engage with their partner to understand their perspective.
“But if conflict arises as a reserve-flexible type, you can give lip service. Meaning, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, I hear you. Yeah, I’m going to do that,’ but you don’t have any real intention of making that change and there will be no follow-through.’”
Over some time, reserve-flexible people can start to discount their own intuition. This is often a problem for women in male-dominated businesses. If the loudest person is the one whose ideas are always being heard, you may start to diminish your view of yourself because you seem passed over repeatedly.
You may notice yourself defaulting to one of these communication styles when your emotions are heightened. It’s important to consider not only your communication form, but also the other person in your relationship. The Freemans have found that opposites attract when it comes to communication. That can be good in some instances, but can also cause challenges.
Jocelyn says her advice for assertive-inflexible people is to ask the reserved people their thoughts and opinions before voicing your own. That keeps you from dominating the conversation, and keeps the other person from suppressing their feelings. She says that’s particularly important in romantic partnerships. You should also be careful of your tone of voice, sounding curious rather than direct.
For assertive-flexible people, you should still have your partner speak first. Just be careful not to be overly flexible.
“Have a list of your priority areas and really be conscious of your ‘yes’ and your ‘no.’ What are you really saying yes to? Are you really saying yes to it, or is this a complaint?” challenges Jocelyn.
She warns you should also be careful to let reserved people finish their thoughts completely – don’t interrupt, that makes people feel diminished.
Aaron speaks next to the reserved-inflexible people. He says that reserved people might start to feel tension and physiologically retreat when their emotions spike. He advises that you should get moving, opening up your muscles and your chest and encouraging you to vocalize. The couple says having discussions while on walks is helpful to them.
“You have to verbally be clear about what you agree to and what you don’t agree to, and what you’re actually going to do and not do,” said Aaron. “This is so real for me!”
Aaron gives an example of when Jocelyn was telling him something and he verbalized that he heard what she was saying and that he understood where she was coming from, but never verbalized that he disagreed.
Moving to reserved-flexible, Aaron says it’s a good idea to have scheduled meetings to have discussions. That helps people feel safer saying what they need to say, because they understand that’s the specific point of the meeting.
A show of hands from the audience proves the majority of those in attendance are assertive people with reserved partners. Jocelyn warns reserved people can tend to stifle their emotions then abruptly let them out in an angry burst. You can’t count on reserved people bringing something up on their own just because the topic at hand comes up. Having a weekly family meeting helps with that expression. That’s true both at home and in the workplace.
Aaron says in the workplace, those meetings can be tremendously beneficial for getting people to share their ideas. That helps everyone to improve.
The Five R’s to Repair from Conflict
The Freemans understand it’s often easier to end a relationship than to put in the work to repair it. Miscommunication is going to happen from time to time.
“People think after a disagreement – big or small – all they have to do is say, ‘I’m sorry,’” said Jocelyn. “But who knows, ‘I’m sorry’ is not enough? You know that either if you say ‘I’m sorry’ all the time or this other person does, it starts to mean a lot less.”
On top of saying the words ‘I’m sorry’ you need to work on repairing from there. That’s where the Five R’s come in.
The first step after an argument is to reflect. Jocelyn says this is often stepped over. Rather than moving on and distracting yourself with busywork, take some time to think about the root cause of the argument. There’s often a deeper source to the issue than the way it manifested in the argument. Consider whether you might have an expectation that you never expressed to your partner or peer. Think about whether you’d had the same discussion in the past but never really resolved things.
“When you miss out on the reflection piece, you miss out on the gold,” said Jocelyn. “What’s the lesson here? We believe that relationships are about learning, and if you want to learn about yourself, the best place to learn about yourself is in relationships with others.”
Taking responsibility doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as taking blame. It just means your have the ability to respond.
Jocelyn says you should never seek to find out if you bear responsibility, but instead find where you bear it.
Aaron says this part is the hardest for him and many other men, because they take things personally.
“We put blame on ourselves and no one wants to feel that way!” said Aaron. “But as a leader, you don’t have that option. You’re not a victim to the things that are happening to you! You’re a leader, so you look for where you have responsibility.”
Aaron says you don’t have to make yourself the center of anything, just discuss action and impact – “When I took ___ action, how did that impact you?” That might be after you express dissatisfaction or use a tone of voice that may have hurt someone.
Jocelyn says that if there’s a relationship that’s been strained, don’t let the argument hangover wear on for days and weeks. Challenge yourself to reconnect after just a few hours.
This step will go much better if you’ve already done the first two Rs and can say, “I’ve reflected and here’s where I take responsibility.”
Waiting for the other person to take responsibility is not good leadership. When plans change, you have to follow your intuition and tap into your emotions.
“Emotions are the juice of life!” exclaims Aaron. “We’ve got men out here like, ‘Oh I don’t talk about emotions.’ Life is getting boring as hell! The juice – the juice of life, the experience, is in that emotion, yet we just want to numb people out.”
He says it’s time to shift that.
That isn’t to say you should be reactive, but you should always aim to be expressive.
“If I – for the sake of men at all – could start to just say this out loud, and trust you powerful women with your emotions and your intuition and let business and life be more guided by your hearts, man that’s a better place, I think. I think that’s where we need to go,” said Aaron to a round of applause.
Jocelyn says this step is often missing.
“Remind each other of what you’re committed to,” she explained. “When was the last time you shared with people in your life – both personally and professionally – what you’re committed to in that relationship? When was the last time you even thought about that?”
Jocelyn says people make their vows at their weddings and discuss their commitments at jobs right when they’re hired, but often never check back on them again. She warns your ego might be prioritizing your commitments rather than your heart.
During times of conflict, remind yourself of what agreements you’ve made.
“We believe that in any relationship, there should be a plan and agreements for what is okay and not okay during conflict, especially in a romantic sense,” said Jocelyn. That might include things like no yelling, no hitting below the belt, no bringing up the past, or no leaving the room or shutting down.
Aaron says arguments are challenges and therefore they’re opportunities, as long as you reconcile them to be so.
Aaron warns the Five Rs need to be done in the exact order they’re presented in. Once you’ve reflected and taken responsibility so that you’re able to reconnect, you’re then able to remind yourself and others of your commitments, so that you can then reconcile.
Aaron brings up Carrie Antrim, the host of the Multifamily Women’s Summit and the co-founder of Multifamily Women.
“She is such a huge reminder of looking for the gold, changing the mindset,” said Aaron.
He explains that if you have a recurring problem in a relationship, it’s only because of your memory. You might still feel hurt by that. Once you’ve reconciled and seen how disagreements are an opportunity for growth, it affects your previous arguments. It clears your mind of them so they don’t bear the same weight, since you’ve established your commitment to getting over the argument hangover.
Jocelyn advises that everyone should think about the Five Rs and decide which they want to improve upon.
Aaron says these Five Rs are the key to good leadership.
“We cannot step over avoiding these challenges, these are actually gifts.”
He admits not everything will always go smoothly, but that’s why you have tools available to help you get over the argument hangover.
“Challenges are going to come up,” said Aaron. “They’re going to come up in your relationships, but the real takeaway today is that those challenges and those relationships are actually the place to grow. To grow your understanding, to grow and strengthen that relationship. If you’re doing that and relationships really are the key to success in your profession and your personal life, by doing these steps, that is leading to an absolutely fulfilling work environment, personal environment, and romantic relationship.”
Jocelyn points out that relationships can be a great relief or a great stress within your life, and you should consider how to improve upon them. You don’t want to look back on a failed relationship with regret.
The Freemans have a podcast called Empowered Couples that you can get on any podcast streaming service. They talk about all things relationships, including communication tools.
She also says that by going to TheArgumentHangover.com you can get $200 of free bonuses, including a workbook and courses in communication and conflict. All you need to get those bonuses is a receipt number for their book of the same name, “The Argument Hangover.”
Carrie Antrim comes to the stage to lead a round of questions. An audience member asks, “So you guys never fight, right?”
“We do argue,” Jocelyn she answers, re-stating that the Freemans as a couple view arguments as opportunities. “We just focus on fighting smarter.”
“When you keep brushing things under the rug, you have a tripping hazard,” she analogizes.
“It’s not about the conflicts,” explains Aaron. “It’s about not having conflicts escalate to do more damage to that person. And then, you want to shorten your argument hangovers.”
Another audience member asks how long the Freemans have been married. The answer is 6 years.
Another person asks for advice on being emotional. Aaron says to never suppress that, even in a corporate setting. Everyone is human, and humans are driven by emotions – even if you’re trying to suppress them or even if you don’t have the language to communicate, and even if you yourself aren’t even sure what you’re feeling.
Just keep in mind whether the emotion is reactive or responsive. Check in with yourself often, and communicate.
Jocelyn has two tips regarding emotional people. The first is to say to your partner or peer, “Something is coming up for me, is now a good time to talk about it?” Getting the other partner’s permission is key so that you don’t blindside people.
The second piece of advice is to communicate how you would like to be listened to. Some people just want to share and talk without feedback or anyone trying to solve the problem.
Your communication styles in combination may seem like they create conflict. For instance, you may talk over each other. Permission-based communication can help, so that assertive people don’t catch the other person off guard. That also helps to create an agreement to take turns sharing. Picture yourself holding a microphone and passing it back and forth so you maintain one speaker at a time without interrupting.
Always make sure to keep conversations constructive. That comes from the agreement and ground rules set for the conversation.