Many of us endure areas of real conflict in our lives. Maybe you know exactly what I mean: the searingly painful kind, in which every attempt to communicate ends in anger, sadness, and feelings of failure. Ugh!
The fact is, this mutual “communication paralysis” is oh, so human. What to do? Let’s go there.
1. Begin with you.
The bottom line is that this is the only place where you have control. There isn’t a thing you can do about another party’s actions and reactions. But there is some good news: you can work powerfully with the part you play in any toxic chemical brew.
What’s your goal for communicating beyond conflict? What are the potential land mines in the situation? How can you make your way around them to connect effectively? What’s that going to take from you?
2. Create a constructive perspective.
Suspend your judgments about the other party. Really. And yes, all your reasons not to will rear up here like ghosts from a grave. It’s understandable, a reaction born of pain.
Yet this is something we can do to get beyond conflict. We can, as conscious humans with goals that matter, interpret chronic areas of discord in new ways. Try focusing on the commitments and values behind them.
Let’s say two ex-spouses can’t communicate and their children are caught in the crossfire. Ouch. Right? And oh, so human.
But each can step back, reflect, and find a perspective that eases inflammation. Maybe their struggle is partly about being alike in many ways. Passionate. Uncompromising. Each can assume the other is feeling many similar feelings and frustrations, including a need to somehow stop the madness. They can begin there, primed for progress.
3. Stay in the present.
Don’t waste precious energy rehashing the past. In the privacy of your own heart, try releasing all the meanings you’ve attached to past failed communication attempts. Then connect in present time, calmly. Think solutions.
Like the mom and dad above, you can rise to the challenge of engaging in a sustained effort of self-discipline, and model that for the next generation.
4. Keep coming back to you.
Let’s imagine another fraught scenario:
An employee can’t relate to her supervisor, feels unfairly treated, and knows this could hurt her career. It’s a catch 22, because her supervisor is currently the gatekeeper to future opportunities.
If she counts out dramatic steps like going around the supervisor, which might backfire, she can let go of judgments (yes, it’s work). She can create constructive interpretations for conflicts. She can move forward, rather than trying to right past perceived wrongs.
Maybe she finds a compassionate stance by imagining the supervisor’s difficult personal life. Or inspires herself with an image of the happy day when this relationship is in her rear-view mirror, because she negotiated it beautifully.
5. Create an intention for the conversation.
Creating an intention aids us in bringing our best to the table. One intention might be for a simple, effective exchange, a small, calm victory. Another might be to stay centered throughout an important conversation, no matter what curve balls we encounter.
Express an intention in language that empowers and energizes you, that serves as 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 conduct yourself as you intended, you’ve succeeded. And grown.
6. Prepare with a little role-play.
Why do so many of us hate role-playing when we lived it 24 and 7, effortlessly, as kids? It’s in fact a secret weapon toward the goal of self-mastery in difficult situations.
You can share with a helper a bit about the kind of rough weather that may come your way. Then let this good soul help you practice getting beyond those moments in ways that match your intention. Make it fun! It will make a difference, perhaps the difference, in your readiness to communicate 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 and 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 party’s mindset shifts from calm to 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 demonstrates mutual commitment to get beyond conflict, and implies that a next connection is coming.
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 satisfying outcomes. Spend time reflecting on and envisioning what you want. Not pie in the sky, from which you’ll fall hard to earth. How about progress, like mutual gentleness, and mutual commitment to positive results?
Allow what you’ve imagined to guide you—your greeting and tone, the words you use, your facial expressions and body language. Be you. Your best you. What better time than in this pivotal moment?
And I’m here to help! Remember, you—and yours—deserve an amazing life. Don’t let chronic conflict sabotage it.
Certified Professional Mindset and Meaning Coach Teresa Young works with clients to accomplish their passion-based goals in healthy, soulful new ways. She coaches by phone, in person, and via Skype outside the U.S.