MICHAEL THOMPSON

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Communication

The One Word That Can End Any Argument

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My wife and I had been married for about a year when we started having disagreements pretty frequently. Nothing we couldn’t get through, but the disputes became draining and were taking a toll on our relationship. One day, after arguing about something I can’t even remember, I called my mom to vent. She listened to me go on and on, and when I was finally done, she gave me this advice: “Michael, if you want to have a successful marriage, you have to eat a lot of bananas.”

Uh, what?

“Let me explain,” she said. “Every time you’re on the verge of getting into an argument and saying something you might later regret, say ‘banana,’ and then go into the kitchen, grab a banana, and eat it as slowly as you can. After you’re finished, if you’re still upset and want to fight, go for it. But eat that banana first.”

The advice sounded flat-out ridiculous. But I kept thinking about it. What if it was crazy enough to work?

Few actions cool a heated moment faster than giving it space. If you sense a disagreement is headed in a downward spiral, saying something as absurd as “banana” can jolt you out of the moment, giving you a chance to check your emotions. I don’t think you necessarily need to eat a banana for the strategy to be effective — you can just say the word, or even think it — but if you want to eat a banana, doing so would help you physically slow down.

You could introduce the banana method to your partner, too. Have it be part of your framework for arguing. Whenever you’re in a fight and one of you feels like you might say something you’ll regret, say “Banana!” so you both know it’s time for a breather. Rules like these offer structure and predictability, helping you realize a disagreement is just that and nothing more.

The next time my wife and I got into a heated discussion and I felt my pulse speeding up, I said the word “banana” in my mind and asked myself if the words I wanted to say would be productive in any way. It didn’t take me long to realize they wouldn’t. So instead of pouring gas on a barely lit fire, I slowed down and asked her if we could have this conversation later when I was thinking more clearly.

While it’s a strange thing to say, my mom’s little banana trick has served as a powerful reminder to think before I speak with my wife—and with other people. If a client is pushing my buttons, I’ll think, “Banana.” If my kids are testing my patience: “Banana.” It works. The point is simply to give yourself a moment to ask yourself if your first response is indeed the best response. Sometimes the best way to stop a war is to get a little weird.