Chronic conflict can sap your strength. It can really mess up your life. Maybe you know just what I mean: the searingly painful kind, when every attempt to communicate ends in anger, sadness, and feelings of failure. Ugh.
The fact is, this kind of recurring bad dream is oh, so human. What to do? Let’s go there.
1. Begin with you.
Yes. You. The bottom line is, this is the only place where you have control. There isn’t a thing you can do about someone else’s actions and reactions. But there is an upside to that bad news: you can work, very effectively, with your part in any toxic stew.
Now, think about these questions with your situation in mind:
What’s your goal for the communication?
What are the potential land mines?
How can you make your way around them to connect effectively?
What’s that gonna take from you?
2. Create a constructive point of view.
Next, while considering all that, set aside your judgments, all that “yada yada yada” about the other person. Really. And yes, all your reasons not to will rear up here like ghosts from a grave. It’s understandable.
Yet this is something we can do to get beyond conflict. We can, because of goals that matter to us, handle chronic issues in new ways. Like working to understand any differing commitments and values behind them.
For example, let’s say two ex-spouses can’t communicate, and their kids are caught in the crossfire. Ouch. Right? And oh, so human.
But each parent can in fact step back, think about the situation, and find a point of view that eases conflict. Maybe their struggle is partly about being alike in some ways. Passionate. Uncompromising. Or still feeling things that get in the way of the work of the moment.
Each can in fact do the good work of assuming and imagining that the other is feeling similar feelings and frustrations, including a need to stop the madness. They can begin there. Then progress is possible.
3. Stay in the present.
Don’t waste energy rehashing the past. Really. It’s a losing battle that’s freaking over, already! Right? Instead, in the privacy of your own sincere heart, try releasing all the meanings you’re giving past and continuing failed attempts to communicate. They don’t mean a thing, except whatever power you give them.
Let it all go. You deserve it. Then connect in present time, calmly. Think solutions.
Like the mom and dad above, you can rise to the challenge. It’s self-discipline in action. Step up to that version of you. Then modeling that for the folks around you who will learn from your good work.
4. Keep coming back to you.
Let’s imagine another scene:
An employee can’t relate to her supervisor, feels mistreated or unappreciated, and knows wearing her emotions on her sleeve may hurt her career. It’s a “catch 22”, lose-lose. Because the truth is, her supervisor’s positive feedback is the gateway to bigger opportunities.
If she counts out dramatic steps like going around the supervisor, which might backfire big-time, she can get about the business of giving up all her judgments about what has happened so far. (Yep, it’s work.)
She can own her part in the way things have gone so far. She can move forward, into the future she wants, rather than trying to get justice somehow by “being right” about whatever. Forget that losing battle.
Instead, maybe she can find some compassion within herself by picturing the supervisor’s difficult personal life. Or inspire herself with thoughts of the happy day when this relationship is in her rear-view mirror, because she negotiated it beautifully. Imagine that. And feel the energy those thoughts bring. Seriously!
5. Create an intention for the conversation.
Creating an intention helps us bring our best to the table. One intention might be to have a simple, effective exchange. One first, small, calm victory. Another might be to stay centered throughout a particular conversation, no matter what curve balls get thrown.
Create an intention that energizes you. One that becomes your compass in potentially choppy waters as you manage yourself. Remember: work with what you can control. And mean it. Bring your A game.
Then success or failure isn’t in anyone’s hands but your own. If you handle yourself as you intended, you’ve succeeded. You’ve won! And you’ve grown.
6. Prepare with a little role-play.
Why do so many of us hate role-playing? After all, we lived it 24 and 7, effortlessly, as kids. It’s in fact a secret weapon toward self-mastery in tough situations.
You can share with a helper a bit about the “rough weather” that may come your way. Then let this kind soul help you practice getting beyond those squals in ways that match your intention.
Make it fun! It will make a difference, maybe the difference, in getting beyond conflict.
7. Agree to stop and re-schedule if needed.
Consider sharing your intention at the start of the conversation. It can help you begin with a new tone. New context.
A couple of ground rules also help. One is to stick to I statements (I feel this, I request that), rather than you statements (you always this or you never that).
Another is to agree up front that if either person starts to get distressed, it’s time to close up shop and try again later. Like role-playing, this works, if you calmly follow through before slippage leads to wreckage.
Then even ending a conversation shows commitment to get beyond conflict. And it implies more good work to come.
8. Imagine the outcome you want, not the one you fear.
Finally, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, keep upping your game toward better and better outcomes. Spend time envisioning exactly what you want. Progress like mutual kindness. New understanding. Positive results.
Then allow what you’ve imagined to guide you: your greeting, and your tone. The words you use. Your facial expressions and body language.
Be you. But your best you. Don’t hold that you back! What better time than in a moment that matters so much to you?
And let me know if you need some expert help, or a role-play partner. Remember, you—and yours—deserve an amazing life. Don’t let chronic conflict bring y’all down.
Teresa Young wants you living your dream, for real. She coaches by phone, in person in Los Angeles, and via Skype outside the U.S.