As I have been thinking about my relationship with my significant other, I’ve had to reflect on my past to help me understand why I do what I do in the present. Truthfully, I learned my style of arguing from my dad. He had a way of being overly protective to the point of paranoia, assuming we were always up to no good. I recall being late for a family dinner and he exploding, accusing me of being out somewhere I wasn’t with people I hadn’t seen in years. Feeling incredibly defensive and embarrassed I retorted with just as much vigor. The argument quickly digressed into a nonsensical screaming match with harsh words being exchanged on both sides and ending in me apologizing to him and the other dinner guests for the outburst.
In hindsight, and in a calm state I realize in all of these arguments my dad was fearful for my safety. He explained to me shortly after this argument that as a pediatrician, he had seen the worst-case scenarios for parents played out in front of him hundreds of times over. He would always fear that his children would be harmed or killed. Armed with this very raw piece of information about my dad, I knew we needed to develop a better way of communicating where we were heard and our fears were acknowledged immediately, as opposed to after the storm had passed and the damage done. How to do this though? I mean dads forgive, daughters forget and we go on until the next outburst.
Flash-forward to living in a new city with my fairly new boyfriend, it hits me like a ton of bricks: I have this pattern of developing poor boundaries with others, building resentment and then pairing it with a short fuse because I am so STRESSED. My deliverance so poor that it would blind the recipient to my very valid hurt feelings and immediately put them on the defensive. The other party now unable to listen let alone apologize or work on a resolution. I know this cycle very well. I’d have to apologize for my behavior, walking away from the conversation, seething inside, confused at having just apologized to someone who had hurt me and feeling angry at myself for blowing another opportunity to stand up for myself effectively. I can give myself multiple excuses for my behaviour, but ultimately I have to change if I want a change. Here are my changes as I head into the New Year with my new boyfriend, in my new city, in my new job, and with my self-reflection intact:
I am responsible for setting my boundaries. This includes letting others know how they can talk to me, behave with me, and even argue with me.
I have to find the courage to talk to people when a problem first occurs and not store it away to hit them with it later when I can’t take any more.
I need to talk to people in private versus create a scene in public. Ultimately, no one looks good including me, and it scares people away.
It’s helpful if I give the facts of the situation first and then follow it up with the impact on me versus slather them with my emotional response.
We all benefit if I am open to adjusting my perspective.
Perhaps I will be successful at this and perhaps I will struggle. The beauty of this season is that I will have many opportunities to practice my new mindset.
Wishing you all a settled and easy holiday season,
I recently moved to BC from Ontario with my partner of just over a year. We made the decision to relocate provinces after only a month of meeting each other. The catalyst for the move was his limited two-year working-holiday visa from the UK and not wanting to pass up an opportunity to ski in some of the best snow in the country.
Our relationship developed quickly and with far more ease than either one of us had previously experienced. Both rounding 30, we were painfully inexperienced in committed relationships, having chosen to spend most of our younger years studying and traveling, while paying little attention to our dating lives.
We found planning the move shockingly easy with little tension or disagreement. Neither of us had savings by the time we arrived in BC (HA!) and we moved in with a couple we knew well. My partner immediately jumped into a low paying job, while I spent the first several months working odd jobs and desperately looking for solid work- something I was not accustomed to doing.
Very quickly, the reality of our situation and the fragility of our new relationship became apparent. The stress of navigating a new city, low paying jobs, unemployment, less than ideal living conditions, etc… all hit us within days of arriving. It became apparent that our ways of handling change were drastically different. I am extroverted and rely heavily on my ‘people’ in times of stress. I need distractions, conversation, physical comfort and usually an afternoon of people watching in a crowded mall with my mom. My partner is an introvert and closes in on himself, often quite literally, when experiencing stress. He disconnects from others, puts his head down and naps frequently.
These opposing approaches to managing external changes instantly affected the dynamic of our relationship and the ease we previously felt was replaced with disconnect, confusion, isolation and conflict.
I found myself incapable of relating to his withdrawn behaviour, unable to accept that his coping strategies were effective in any way and feeling extremely volatile and confused. I was exhausted and quickly fell into old habits of being confrontational and unpredictable. Our first true blow out left me feeling shaky and unprepared for how to move forward without any support system and lacking confidence in my partner. I realized I needed to do something different, and dig deep for skills in order to put into place a better system for managing the conflict in our relationship.
This is when I found myself sitting in a course called “Building and Maintaining Resiliency” by Raj Dhasi of Turning Point Resolutions Inc. This marked the beginning of my journey as an individual and as part of a couple, navigating unmarked terrain and working through very raw conflict. What I learned and am working hard to apply, sometimes with success and sometimes not is:
Honesty WITH GRACE is the best policy. Trying to avoid hurting my partner by guarding my raw feelings or withholding my disappointment in him was only prolonging the inevitable conflict and creating a wider gap in my connection with him. He can’t read my mind and he certainly can’t work with me to improve the relationship if I am not fully honest about difficult feelings. How I frame my comments to him though would determine his ability to listen. Adding grace to how I speak has become critical.
I need to put my own oxygen mask on first! Raj’s course opened my eyes to the very real side effects prolonged stress was having on my neurological systems. I found myself identifying with far too many of the physical expressions of stress she was discussing. By not looking after myself and managing my own stress I was bringing a less than ideal version of myself, down to the cellular level, to my relationship.
There is no glory in being an emotional martyr. I find myself often putting my own emotional needs second, third, sometimes ninetieth on the priority list. If I CHOOSE to do this I can’t get angry with my partner for not making them his first priority. I needed to develop a mature way of meeting my own needs instead of looking for my partner to do this.
I needed to get creative. If my old patterns of managing stress and dealing with emotional issues with my partner weren’t working, I had to lay them aside and explore new options. This meant changing up parts of my daily routine, scheduling actual time for self-care and learning new ways of having old conversations.
This course ignited in me a desire to demand better for my relationship and myself. It gave me the wake-up call I needed to look at who I am in the relationship and hold myself to a higher standard. If I want my relationship to last the test of time, I need to become a more resilient teammate. I am trying every day as I move through conflict, change and even chaos.
This is the true story of a workshop participant.
We hope to welcome her back to share more of her journey.
Most adults know that there is no reasoning with a child in the heat of a temper tantrum. What if we applied this same understanding to adults in conflict? What if we accepted that adults tantrum too and at times are not open to rational dialogue? What if we accepted that each one of us can tantrum and needs a way out before we demonstrate a full blown explosion whether it be in person, on the phone or via text?
At our most rational, we know that erupting leads to a false sense of relief, as the damage is often greater than any gain achieved from letting the other person have it. So when do we walk away? How do we walk away so that we can actually come back later?
You can see your ability to remain rational is compromised. Your body is giving you cues that you are losing control.
The other party is escalating beyond a place of rationality. You can hear it in their voice or see it in their face and body movements or in the intensity of their responses.
You have set a limit on problematic behaviour and the behaviour is continuing.
You can reasonably guess that if the conversation continues, the outcome will be negative and harmful and you need time to think to get it back on track.
More information is needed before the conversation can continue.
Name what you are noticing occurring in the conversation that is not helpful. Make it about you. “I am noticing that I am struggling with…”
Name the impact of what you are noticing on your conversation. “…which is making it difficult for me to…”
State that you believe a break would allow for a more constructive conversation later on. “…therefore I think a break would serve us well…”
Let the other party know when you will re-engage with them and how. “I will connect again tomorrow at…via…”
Exit the conversation and that means get up and go!
Follow through with re-engaging at the date and time you said you would:
Thank the other party for allowing you to take a break.
Discuss what caused you to take a break.
Set clear boundaries on what might work better for you in this discussion and/or state what you will do differently to ensure a productive dialogue occurs.
Re-focus the conversation to the issue(s) you were originally discussing.
Knowing when and how to walk away is part and parcel of healthy living.
Have you ever been in the trenches of a challenging and emotional conversation, where you find yourself fighting feelings of nausea, dizziness, shortness of breath or even numbness? Your heart begins to race, your throat constricts and the conversation seems to be moving so quickly you can’t even attend to these physiological changes. You say things or behave in a manner that you end up regretting later as the situation becomes increasingly problematic.
After the conversation ends, these ‘signals’ may temporarily subside, however each time you think about the situation, they re-emerge taking you by surprise. They appear in the shower, driving to the grocery store, in meetings, or as you are drift off to sleep. This physiological feedback tells us we are triggered, bothered, or uncomfortable with something that occurred in the conversation. These signals can be intrusive, uncomfortable and if left unattended, they can grow to take up all the head space we have to offer. If honed, these signals can help us settle, attend to ourselves, the other party and the engage in a productive conversation.
Tips for honing and using your internal signals:
Build your internal awareness. Notice changes in your body. Do not fight these sensations. Notice them even in everyday interactions- traffic jams, interactions with coworkers, dinner conversations with your partner or a friend or even reactions towards inanimate objects.
Look for the patterns! What symptoms do you most experience when you are angry, sad, frustrated, depressed embarrassed, shamed, etc? Where in your body do you tend to feel these symptoms?
When you notice the pattern emerging, breathe, straighten your posture and relax whatever part of your body where you notice the symptoms emerging.
Express! When in conflict, use this information to acknowledge what experience you are having, and then to express your experience to the other party.
If you are unable to attend to or use your internal signals in the moment, don’t hesitate to go back to the conversation to address whatever is outstanding for you, including any behaviour you need to take responsibility for.
Your internal signals, when attended to, will keep you settled, grounded, and effective in challenging conversations. Try it out!
Traditionally, many of us have learned that a good negotiation involves putting our needs and concerns at the forefront of the dialogue. If we come out ahead of the other party, the negotiation or resolution will have been a success. In essence, we engage in fighting and exhausting tactics so that we walk away with the biggest piece of the pie.
There is however, a better way to get a big piece of the pie and ensure the other party comes back to you with the next pie. Engage with a mindset of mutual gain, meaning each party will get the exact amount of pie they need to fully satisfy them without compromising or harming the other party. In our families and workplaces this approach leaves relationships solid, nourished and well supported as each person gets their needs met while also contributing to the other party’s success. This approach ensures a creative resolution is easily achieved, is long lasting and more satisfying.
How to Cultivate an Attitude of Mutual Gain
Recognize that a mindset of “and” vs “either/or” will allow you to see all of what is possible in a negotiation. The pie is huge and it can be shared in a manner that works for all, if you can just see that.
Be aware of what resources you have to bring to the table – you often have more than you think.
Lead with the intention of contributing to the other party’s success.
Be transparent about your intention to ensure the final outcome meets the needs of each party to the greatest degree possible.
Be clear on the needs and concerns you want addressed in any final agreement and put aside those that are simply created by your emotionality.
Anticipate the criteria the other party wants met in the final agreement and consider a range of solutions to meet those needs without compromising your own.
Manage your emotions so that you stay true to working to the benefit of all.
As long days become shorter and a cool breeze replaces the lazy heat, you might find yourself trying to hold onto the glow of summer while reluctantly moving towards the coolness of autumn. As is the case with most families with children, September brings with it a change in schedules, demands on time, drop offs and picks up at school and rushed morning routines. Even the most well put together family can spin into chaos as anxiety and conflict nip at their heels.
Tips to Keep the Summer Bliss Alive:
Accept that moving from the summer to the fall is a time of transition. In transitional times, conflict and friction are normal. Go slow and give yourself extra time for each task as you settle into your fall routine.
Create a ‘future fun’ calendar. Ask your children to make of list of their favourite summer activities and activate a plan to recreate these with a fun autumn twist!
Schedule down time. It may seem impossible with everything on your to-do-list, and yet taking a break helps diffuse tension and anxiety. Put down the phone, tablet, to do list and just be with each other.
Talk! Use your meal, bath, homework or TV time to talk about your favourite summer memories.
Focus on the positive! What’s good about the fall season?!
“Can you close the blinds on the windows? I can’t handle the movement outside.” Anxiety increases our heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. In turn, too much rapid movement around us can further induce anxiety by escalating the sympathetic nervous system response. This is why the majority of our mediations and coaching sessions occur in rooms protected from external movements.
“Why do I have to talk to her? Everything is fine. I will go to work, do my job and leave.” Anxiety increases our desire for the easiest route to resolution, even if it is not the most effective, just so our system can settle. We often need to hear what is in it for us in order to try a different route to the one our system is being pulled towards.
“I keep waking up at night wondering how I could have handled this differently.” When we are sleeping our brain continues to process what occurred during the day, week, month, year, etc., except it is the equivalent to operating a car without using the brake pedal. When we sleep, our limbic areas take over while our prefrontal cortex shuts down. The result is that as we dream without rational control, and cortisol is released into our system and wakes us up to protect us from the perceived threat.
“I know you told me what to expect in the joint mediation session, but can you tell me again? I don’t remember exactly what you said.” The increase in cortisol levels causes the hippocampi to be stunned, thus impairing our short term memory. When in conflict situations, it is common for people to forget details, lose their car keys, not remember where they parked, or to have periods of ‘vegging out’ where they don’t know how they got from point A to point B.
“But you are mine and I don’t want to share you with X [the other party].” This comment is by far the most telling in terms of what anxiety does to us. Anxiety creates the desire to bond, to find a safe person to console us, hear us, support us, and guide us through our anxiety. Participants in coaching and mediation hold on tightly to the coach/mediator they have bonded with and look for cues of ongoing confidentiality, presence, and safety.
In conflict situations, anxiety management is key:
Accept the anxiety.
The key to resiliency is accepting reality as it is; part of your reality can be anxiety. This does not mean accepting being miserable, but rather recognizing that your friend, anxiety, is tapping you on the shoulder and needs your attention. To deny it, will be to induce it further.
Manage your self-talk.
The voice inside your head will trick you, it will tell you that this is the worst situation ever. It might tell you that you can’t handle this or you don’t deserve this or this is all your fault. It will talk you up. Your job is to question your self-talk and balance it. How realistic is what it is telling you? How will you cope if the worst outcome happens? How do you want to be, or perceived, when the situation is over?
Ramp up your self-care.
The conflict situation will pass, and it will be resolved in some fashion. How you will be after it is all said and done, depends on how well you take care of yourself during the conflict situation. Truly listen to what your system needs moment by moment and grant yourself these essentials. It may be warm milk, a blanket, a safe conversation, a hot water bottle, exercise, a nutritious meal, etc.
Engage in strategies that soothe your skin.
The brain and the skin are made up of the same material in utero, so when you soothe the skin you soothe the brain. This includes massage, acupuncture, facials, putting your hand over your heart, and a good old fashioned hug.
Take a break from the anxiety.
It’s helpful to oscillate between noticing and settling your anxiety and just getting on with day-to-day living. Ask yourself every so often, “If I wasn’t attending to my anxiety right now, what would I be doing?” Then go do it.
Know too, that our role as conflict management practitioners is to support you not only in resolving the conflict, but managing, challenging and settling your anxiety.
It’s rarely easy to walk away from an interaction that is going sideways. Most of us want to get the conversation on the right track and yet we have to swallow our pride, walk away and try again later.
Why Disengage When Fighting Feels so Right:
There will be a price to pay for allowing the conversation to escalate. The price might be financial, professional, or personal. Ask yourself how much of a price you want to pay and then allow the conversation to escalate accordingly.
You are more likely to get another chance to converse and sort through issues more effectively. When we disengage from a conversation in a reasonable fashion, people usually allow us another opportunity to sort through the situation without making it more difficult for us.
You get to maintain your dignity. You don’t have to worry about what others will say about your behaviour or what will emerge on YouTube. In fact, you will be seen as poised, confident and compassionate.
Disengaging builds relationships with clear boundaries. People learn what you will and will not tolerate and the grace with which you will respond to what you will not tolerate. Disengaging gives people information about who you are so they can decide how they wish to engage with you.
In the long run, disengaging effectively feels way better than any fight. Your system does not have to go through the highs and lows that come with anger, you don’t have to wake up at 3 am to plot your next argument, and you don’t have to take your stress out on those you love.
When to Disengage:
You asked someone to stop a particular behaviour and the behaviour continues.
You are triggered and are finding it difficult to self-regulate.
The other person continues to ramp up regardless of the listening or assertion skills you are using.
You are too hungry, tired or stressed to navigate the conversation. Your brain needs glucose every 2-3 hours in order to allow you to maintain self-control. It gets this glucose from food, so by the time you are hungry your ability to self-regulate will be impaired. Many of us also convince ourselves that we can handle yet another conversation even if we are exhausted or stressed. This suppression of emotion creates over activity in the core of the brain – the limbic areas – resulting in increased anxiety and dropped impulse control.
You still have the ability to disengage – before you are yelling, blaming, being sarcastic, etc.
Six Easy Steps to Disengaging:
Take responsibility for what is not going well for you in the conversation. Own it and don’t blame the other person. “I am finding it difficult to track our conversation because…”
Name what the problem is for you. “we continue to speak over one another.”
Commit to resolving the problem. “I want to sort through this issue with you in the best way possible.”
Set up another time to continue. “Let’s try again tomorrow at 3 pm (pick any timeframe that allows you some cool down time). I will call you/see you then.”
Thank the person for allowing you to step away. “Thanks for letting me take this pause.”
Either end the conversation by walking away OR listen to the other person’s response, acknowledge it, and reconfirm your commitment. “Yes of course you want to be heard and I want to hear you too. That will help us get the best end result. I am confident we will get to a better place tomorrow. I will talk to you then.”
The key, at this point is to make sure you take time to self-regulate, find perspective, and of course show up to re-engage.
There is apparently an art to giving feedback, and yet even the most suavely and courteously delivered feedback shatters the sturdiest of people. Plus, in many organizations, structured feedback is still a foreign concept. Organizations have allowed self-awareness and reflection to become buzz words that allow us to say we are all-knowing of our strengths and flaws, while we shrink away from any real feedback others may have to offer.
The thought of feedback alone induces fear in most. What do we fear though? We fear being seen in any way other than the way we wish to be seen. Feedback unearths what we see as our dirty secrets – or more gently stated – our flaws. Most of us work diligently to cover up our flaws with expertise, education, years of service, relational abilities, etc. Feedback exposes us, and our fragility emerges resulting in an inability to accept the feedback. Perhaps, receiving feedback is what should be considered an art that ensures we balance our sense of self with what others offer us.
So, how can we receive critical feedback especially when fear, flaws and fragility exist?
Feedback is an offering. It is an offering from those who care about us (most of the time) or those who need a change from us. To reject the feedback is to reject those who offered it. Instead, accept it and attend to it in the same manner you would anything of value and importance.
Take the time to grieve the difference between who you think you are and how others perceive you. Feedback brings with it loss – loss of face, loss of identity, loss of connections (how could someone say this about me), loss of self-confidence, loss of safety – this loss must be given space to emerge and settle.
Name what is true/right in the feedback. It is easiest to find flaws in the feedback, and yet if we can name what is right it gives us an opportunity to focus on that which we must attend to in order to truly grow.
Focus on themes and do not hone in on words. This will only hurt and this hurt will hold you back from doing the work you need to do.
Make an action plan to address one-two themes in feedback. The amount we take on to address must not be greater than what our heart can tolerate.
Thank those who finally shared the good, the bad and the ugly. They too could have just avoided the feedback.
The conversation is getting heated. You can feel the pressure inside you building. You need to speak. How should you speak so you get heard with adding fuel to the flames? Try these 7 tips to speaking effectively in fiery conversations and see what happens!
Slow yourself down and pause the voice inside your head. Remember, that voice is highlighting your emotional reaction and what you need to access is your rational processing. If you breathe, tell yourself ‘you can handle this’, you have a greater chance of focusing on what is really being said and therefore what you actually need to speak to.
Make sure the other person knows you are slowing down and focusing on them. This includes attentive and curious eye contact, settled body movement, and encouraging facial expressions. It’s ok…you might as well find out what the person is thinking because they are thinking it anyways.
See the other person the way they want to be seen first (paraphrase of a Mahatma Gandhi quote!)
Ask questions that link to what is being said.
Verbally prove you heard what is being said, even if you disagree.
Verbally agree where you can, as often as you can. Fascinating how agitated people like to be agreed with!
Own what is yours to own. If you erred in some way, own it without excuses.
Consider, do you even need to share your perspective? How necessary is it? How much value will your thoughts add? Can you let the other person go unchallenged? When might there be a better time to come back and address a specific comment or moment in the conversation?
If you decide you need to share your perspective, then ask permission to share your thoughts. There is no point wasting your time, energy and words if the other person is not ready to hear you. The worst they will say is ‘no, I don’t want to know your perspective’, in which case you repeat 1-3. What you won’t do is get heated!
When you do share your perspective cover off these basic areas: what you value, your hopes, your concerns and your intentions behind anything the other person saw as problematic conduct, and what you would like to see moving forward. Be measured – go slow, pace yourself, speak for brief 20-30 seconds of time, keep your tone as normal as possible. This is how you make sure you don’t undo all of the great work you did in steps 1-5.
After you speak, pause and listen and see what the other person took from your perspective. Prove you heard them and re-clarify anything that requires re-clarifying…of course in a measured manner.
This should add water to the flames and turn the conversation into a more productive dialogue that allows the relationship to stay intact.