Working It Out
Resolving conflicts and tension is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of human relationships. Our communication style determines how we feel heard and respected. But what if we find ourselves with others who don't share our style of communication? What if we feel analyzed or judged? What if we become emotionally flooded or resistant or shut down? Here are some thoughts.
"Without deep listening and gentle loving speech it is very difficult to move towards peace." -- Thich Nhat Hanh
Deep listening is half of mindful communication. It involves bringing your full presence of mind and body to the other person. It is listening purely for the sake of bringing relief to the other, without reacting or analyzing (verbally and mentally!). I often ask for this at the beginning of a tense talk, and utilize it in all my workshops and women's circles. Truly hearing another without our own agenda allows each person to let their guard down and open up.
Focus on feeling.
I learned this from a school counselor in the fourth grade and it has served me greatly ever since. A tenant of Non-Violent Communication (look into it!), the basic model is "When I observe _____ , it makes me feel _____ ." Focusing on observation and feeling helps move the conversation into a safe place without blaming the other person or making them wrong. Take out the need to point a finger at someone or something, and focus on clear, compassionate, and honest expression.
That being said, if you feel you are in the wrong, apologize. Don't justify your actions. It will be healing for you and the other person.
Problem solving versus holding space.
Which is it? Which do you want it to be? Problem solving is goal-oriented and has a clear plan. Here we are, here is the obstacle, how do we resolve it? "Holding space" is a receptive container in which one person shares uninterrupted, while the other person "holds space" for them to safely express (e.g. deep listening). It's good to be clear about what your needs are going in and to reciprocate by meeting another's needs where you can. Taking action at the end of a conversation is also a great tool, sharing how you can each take steps moving forward.
Are you holding your breath? Making eye contact? Are your arms covering your heart? Is your jaw clenched up? Notice the other person, are they fidgeting, edgy, holding back? Ask yourself how your presence can allow them to open up. Notice how it affects them if you take a deep breath or adjust your posture.
Set yourself up for success.
Meditate before an intense talk. Find a space where you both can feel grounded and relaxed. Be well-slept, nourished, and hydrated.
Don't be an asshole.
Slipping into pettiness, name-calling, blaming, or unleashing unprocessed emotions in an unsafe way is never a good call. If you or the other person start to go down this road, take a breath, and put up a boundary. Saying, "I'm feeling overwhelmed and shut down" or "Let's take some space and come back to this" is totally acceptable.
the gift of innocence.
Resentment is a build up of unresolved emotions (particularly a n g e r) that accumulates in our system and causes us suffering. It's drinking poison and wishing the other person to get sick. Give other's the gift of innocence. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that softens our hearts and opens us to deeper experiences of love and compassion. Only you know if you have truly forgiven. It make take days, years, or lifetimes, but if we can keep coming into the heart, we will ease not only our own suffering, but that of others as well.
If you'd like to learn more tools for authentic communication and deep listening, feel free to connect with me over a session!