Posts Tagged ‘relationships’

Active Listening to Avoid Conflict

Article contributed by guest author Grant Herbert.

Do you fail to listen, interrupt, or always find fault in what others say, or do you welcome mutual understanding by listening intently and allowing the sharing of information?

One of the most powerful skills that we can all have is genuine listening. It’s the key to effective communication. And for healthy relationships, it’s important to hear everything that’s being said and to be a tuned into what’s not being said so that we get the full picture and we’re able to interact and have mutually beneficial communication. This is one of the most important ingredients in Empathy.

When we get this skill to where it’s going to help us and give us a triple win, a win for us, a win for them, and a win for the greater good, we are not only interested in what we have to say and what our opinion is, but we’re open to what the other person or people have to say. And we filter that information in our logical brain to make sure that we have the entire picture to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid conflict.

Well, we’re still learning to do this well. We might be someone who interrupts all the time, where we’ve got our own agenda and we’re pushing that, and we’re not really all that interested in fully listening to what the other person’s saying. We might be giving the opinion that we are listening with our ears, but our body language and our response and reaction says that we aren’t really interested.

When we do this, we’re able to have conversations that are effective, that are mutually beneficial, and that allow us to be involved with Compassionate Empathy; to not just understand, but to be a part of the solution as well. 

So, let’s talk about some of the things that we are listening for. As we’ve already said, we’re listening to what’s being said, we’re also listening to what’s not being said. We’re listening to what’s not congruent, what doesn’t seem to add up. A lot of times, I’ll be having conversations or I’ll be communicating and what I’m saying here isn’t lining up to what I said here, and that creates confusion.

We listen for what’s needed, what’s missing, and we listen to what their goals are, what they want to achieve. By actively listening, we can also be attuned to what their strengths are so that we know where we can add value and where they’re doing okay.

So, let me give you three key tips that you can use to help you to be a more active listener and therefore, have more effective communication.

Number one, set aside your own agenda. When we have our own agenda out front, we’ve got all this noise and all this clamour going on in our mind. So, even though we are doing our best to listen, we’re not hearing. We’re filtering it through our own agenda. So, the best thing that we can do is to be totally focused on them, set aside our own agenda, and listen fully and be fully present. 

Number two is to avoid jumping in. A lot of times when I was learning to be a better communicator, someone would be talking and they could tell that all I was doing was waiting for them to take a breath so that I could jump in. I’d be trying to jump in and go, “Yeah, okay.” And every time they said a point, I’d have something to counter it with or something to add. 

So, when we avoid jumping in and leave the conversation open and collect the information in a logical way, not collecting it in a way that’s comparing it to what our beliefs are, we’re able to get the full picture. 

And number three is to reflect back what you heard. Remember last week, we talked about the communication process, being someone who is a sender, encoding their message, and sending it to a receiver. The receiver receives that information through the noise and then they decode what they thought they were communicated. And that’s where the confusion can come in.

What they then do is they encode their reaction or their response and they send it back through the noise to the original sender who is now the receiver, who decodes what they think they heard. The challenge with all that is we can make assumptions. We can think that we heard this and therefore make a belief around that, give that a meaning when in fact it may not be what was said at all.

So, by reflecting back what we think we heard, we were able to get clarification and or confirmation so that we can then move forward effectively; simple phrases like, “So, what I heard you say was…,” and then repeating what you thought they said. Now, this can be done, whether it’s verbally or whether it’s written text.

And that gives the person that you’re communicating with the opportunity to go, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said,” or give clarity and either go deeper to give further understanding or go, “No, that’s not what I meant at all. This is what I meant.” 

So, when we use these three tips, when we actively listen and we do it without assumption, we do it without jumping in, and we reflect to get clarity and confirmation, we take out all the misunderstanding and all the conflict. Active listening is a crucial component of Empathy, and one of the competencies that we teach in the work that we do in Social and Emotional Intelligence. 

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13 Ways to Be More Collaborative

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Boy, are people cranky these days! And for good reason, right? Our norms have been turned upside down, and, combined with fear, uncertainty, financial strain, and worry — it’s a sure recipe for contentiousness.

Just take a look at just about any social media page. People can post the most innocent of comments — or not — but no matter, there’s always someone, or some-many, who will jump on their soapbox and argue, call names, sling insults, and make snide remarks, sometimes just to be disagreeable. Why is it when things get tough, we tend to throw teamwork and collaboration out the window?

Some would say it’s human nature and can’t be helped.

“Bad temper is its own scourge. Few things are more bitter than to feel bitter. A man’s venom poisons himself more than his victim.” — Charles Buxton

Oxford Language Dictionary defines human nature as “the general psychological characteristics, feelings, and behavioral traits of humankind, regarded as shared by all humans.” Why, then, if it’s something we all share, are some people kindhearted, uplifting, and encouraging, while others seem prone to be the thorn in everyone’s side?

It comes down to choice.

Contrary to popular belief, we get to choose how we react to the emotions we are feeling. Every single one of us can either choose the path of collaboration, or, decide to go down the path of contentiousness. We have the choice to either fall victim to our emotions and allow them to take us down the spiral of negativism, cynicism, and criticism, or use them as a vital source of data which can lead to greater connectivity and cooperation with others, leading to healthier, happier relationships.

No matter your circumstances, no matter how tough things are, no matter how utterly frustrated you may feel, you get to choose how you respond.

Experiencing negative emotions is normal. But we don’t have to act out on them. So why does it feel like poor behavior sometimes is an automatic reaction, one that can’t be helped? The answer has to do with how our brains are wired. When presented with stimuli which trigger a strong emotion, the signal first arrives to the emotional part of your brain, and communicates that you either need to fight or take flight, without delay. It takes another six seconds for the signal to hit the rational part of your brain and allow you to use reason in choosing your next steps.[How to best manage the six seconds that can change your life (for the worse)].

If you choose to react within those first six seconds, chances are your choices may be clouded by the hot emotions you’re feeling. Those are the moments when we shoot back that feisty text, fire off a heated email, or exchange hurtful words in a disagreement. This out-of-control response is a result of an amygdala hijack, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995. The amygdala, the part of the brain designed to respond quickly to  threats, in order to protect us from danger, can interfere with our functioning in our day-to-day lives where perceived threats are now rarely a matter of life and death. 

If we delay reacting by just a few more moments, allowing the brain to take the emotional stimuli and process it with the rational part of our brain, we have a much greater likelihood of making a thought-out, cooperative and productive decision. [Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response]

Easier said than done.

Becoming a team player, and leading others toward collaboration, takes emotional intelligence, including self-awareness, self-management, other awareness, and relationship management, to pull it of. These traits often don’t come easy. But with some focused effort and the help of a social + emotional intelligence coach, you can take steps in a new direction.

If working collaboratively with others is not one of your strong points, here are some things to try to work toward  a more cooperative approach:

  • Hit pause. When you feel your temper rising, take a break. Inhale deeply, step away, take a walk — anything to give your brain a chance to bring reason to the table.
  • Look for opportunities to team up with others. Instead of going it alone on your next project, find a few others to collaborate with and let them know you’d really appreciate their input.
  • Enhance your listening skills. When others offer their insights, even if you don’t like what they’re saying, tune into what they’re trying to communicate and take a genuine interest in learning more. Understanding their motivations may help you be more open to a differing viewpoint.
  • Keep others informed as to your goals, projects, timelines, and successes along the way. Communicating with others helps them feel like part of the team.
  • Be sure to say thank you to those who are working with you. Gratitude goes a long way in building rapport with others. Some people thrive on public recognition while others appreciate a private “thanks”. Learn your team members and be generous with your appreciation.
  • Lead without dominating. Seek out ways you can ask for input and allow for time and space for others to come up with suggestions, ideas, etc…especially those who may be quieter or less assertive.
  • Give validation freely. Letting others know their input is valued, even if the ideas presented are not ones you’d necessarily incorporate, goes a long way in building a cooperative spirit. An old proverb says, “In a multitude of counselors there is safety.” A variety of ideas, even the ones which sound crazy or far-fetched, can contribute to finding successful ones.
  • When conflict arises, attempt to resolve it sooner than later. Unresolved conflict can eat away at cohesion. Though avoiding hard conversations may seem easier in the moment, they’ll need to take place eventually. The sooner you can resolve disagreements, the sooner you can move forward toward your goals.
  • Treat everyone with respect and courtesy. There’s never a time when it’s OK to be rude, distasteful, or demeaning. No matter the job title, position, or lot in life, practice treating all people with high regard.
  • Share your resources with others. Don’t be an idea-hoarder. Who knows if your insights may spark imaginative ideas in others?“

“Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

  • Allow others to take credit. Your innovative ideas may spur others to come up with creative ways of doing things…so much so that they may forget the original idea came from you. That’s OK. Exercise enough personal power to not need to have all the credit all the time.
  • Empower others to be successful. Good leaders look for ways for others to be successful. Which of your behaviors turn others off? What hurdles may be keeping others from feeling like part of your team? What needs do they have? How can you go out of your way to meet those needs?
  • Get to know your colleagues. Learn their spouse’s names, ask about what their kids are up to, and seek to understand their motivations and personal interests. When team members feel understood, and appreciated, they’re much more likely to be strong contributors.

Learning to get along and work well with others will enhance your own sense of well-being, as well as contribute to happier, healthier relationships and a greater sense of community…something we all could use more of these days.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

A lesson in emotional intelligence–from the critters

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

I built a little pond on my plot at my community garden last year. I’ve put a lot of loving work into it, gathering and arranging rocks, purchasing a bubbling solar fountain, and nudging plants to life around its perimeter. I collected cattails from a nearby stream and replanted them along with a few lily pads and other water plants. One of my neighbors even put fish in it which we both feed.

So you can imagine my frustration arriving every day to discover the rocks have been thrown in, plants are torn up and knocked over, and the pump is disassembled in pieces at the bottom of the pond. The foam pump float has been ripped apart, full of tiny fingernail imprints. Grrr! Who would do this?!

My garden neighbors have a wild child whom I caught several times last year playing in my pond, throwing rocks, trampling plants, etc. The parents would yell at him to get out but he paid them no mind. So my assumption–of course–was to blame this hellion for the daily destruction. I know it’s a small thing in the big scheme of life, but I found myself getting really cranky that these parents would not discipline their child enough to keep him out of other people’s stuff! All the ‘facts’ matched up: he is an unruly kid and needs to stop.

Just when I had developed a real attitude about the poor little kid (and his parents), I read an article about the damage that raccoons can do to a garden pond. Raccoons! And as I started looking a little closer at all the signs, I see now that it is obviously one of these masked critters who is the culprit and not the little boy! Especially because the parents assured me (yes, I spoke with them) they haven’t even brought him to the garden this summer! Here I spent a few stressful weeks dissing on these parents and the kid, in my mind, and even talked to the garden manager about it, in my ‘kindhearted righteousness’. So imagine my chagrin at the realization.

Which got me thinking…

Sometimes we make negative judgments of people when we really don’t have all the facts. We think we do. But we don’t. We create a story in our mind based upon our views and outlooks and determine it is the truth…when it’s just not. It’s easy to do. And it’s hurtful. And wrong. And it’s a good way to ruin relationships and assure our hearts will become bitter.

Have anyone you’re judging today based upon YOUR set of facts? Someone you KNOW is in the wrong, and has bad intentions…so you think. What if…what if you’re wrong? What if there’s a different perspective, some whys you might not be aware of, some facts you haven’t noticed, which are missing from the narrative you’ve so carefully crafted? I’d like to encourage you to learn from my mistake…and let’s all take a lesson from the critters. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Quit pointing the finger. Accept that maybe your own closed mindedness may be the real ‘bad guy.’

I’ve got some apologizing to do.

Then I’m going to forgive myself.

Then I’m going to go water that garden.

Can you trust someone who’s been dishonest?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

“A single lie discovered is enough to create doubt in every truth expressed.” — Unknown

When trust is broken

There’s not much worse than catching someone you thought you trusted in a lie. Or several of them. You find you instantly go from believing in them to wondering if anything about your relationship is true. The damage seems irreversible and ending the friendship seems like the logical ‘next-step’–because how can you have a good relationship without trust?

The thing is, you can’t. As Stephen R. Covey said, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

How do you know when someone can’t be trusted? Often, you’ll notice one or more of these symptoms:

  • They are unable to establish open, candid, trusting relationships.
  • They have developed a reputation for lacking integrity.
  • They get that ‘deer in the headlights’ look when you ask them what values they stand for.
  • They behave erratically, in ways that ‘don’t make sense’.
  • They treat people differently based upon the situation (they may be nice to you, but make fun of others, for example.)
  • They’re willing to undermine others for their own personal gain.
  • They withhold information if they think it may get them in trouble.

Once trust is broken, the safe nature of the relationship unfortunately shifts, and you’ll find yourself second-guessing everything that comes out of their mouth. It’s extremely hard to believe in someone who has looked you in the eyes and told you an untruth. As one anonymous quote about trust says, “I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”  Lady Gaga says it with a little more poignancy:  “Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that m…f…’s reflection” (pardon her French).

That being said, and this may come as a surprise–broken trust doesn’t mean the relationship has to end. Yes, there are times when someone has defiled your trust to the point you know you need to call it quits. This article is not designed for those of you who have been hurt over and over and over again by the same person, who obviously is not working to live in integrity and is bent on a life of cheating and deceit. And this is not about staying in a relationship with someone who is abusive or putting you or others in danger. This is written for the one-time offenders, or even the two and three timers (you get to determine the number), with whom you still see the value of continuing the relationship. In this case, healing the friendship will take some hard work–but it can be done. Taking the time to feel your feelings, lay aside judgments, understanding the whys, releasing the ‘all or nothing’ mentality, then meeting each other’s needs can help with the repairs.

Feel your feelings

Being lied to by someone you care about is a slap in the face. It stings. Your world that seemed safe just moments before now feels unstable and shaky. Depending on the depth of the lie, the sudden lack of trust can take the wind out of your sails and crush your dreams. Questions like, “How could she…?” and “How could he be so selfish?!” haunt us as we replay the situation over and over in our heads. Then we start to wonder if this was the first lie, and how long has this been going on? “Has anything she’s told me been real?” We begin to doubt the legitimacy of the entire relationship.

These feelings in response to dishonesty are normal. Anger-sadness-betrayal-pain-disbelief-chagrin-embarrassment-disappointment-discouragement– are normal responses. Find a safe place to sit with the emotions which are welling up inside you. Stuffing them inside, or, in a more passive-aggressive way, pretending you’re fine while making snarky comments will just prolong the agony. If you need to vent, grab a pen and write in your journal (not on your social media page!). Talk to a counselor. Seek out a close friend and ask them if you can unload for a bit. Cry. Scream. Yell. (Obviously, screaming and yelling in the office isn’t the ‘safest’ place to vent. Or, in the moment, screaming and yelling at the person who’s caused the hurt. Conversations done in anger never seem to work out very well).  Be emotionally-aware of your surroundings by finding an appropriate setting but do let yourself feel. I find writing down the emotions I’m feeling, being very specific as to how I name them, and noting why I’m feeling them, helps validate that what I am feeling is legit.

Good guys vs. bad guys

It’s tempting, in the moment, to write the person off as one of the ‘bad guys’. I wish it was that cut and dry. If people were only that black and white, being able to point your finger and labeling them ‘bad’ would seem to make the heartache a little lighter. But the truth is, all of us are dishonest at some point in our lives. If you’re really honest–no pun intended–you’ve most likely been dishonest in some shape or form in the last week–or even today! Stretching the truth, withholding vital information, or feigning agreement are all forms of dishonesty. Have you ever checked your social media pages on company time? Have you used the company printer for personal use? Have you allowed someone to give you credit for something that others may have had a greater hand in? A study done in 2010 found that the average person lies 1.65 time per day. That’s 11 and a half lies a week, or 46.2 lies per month! (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/homo-consumericus/201111/how-often-do-people-lie-in-their-daily-lives).

So, my point is we all exhibit some form of dishonesty from time to time, but just because you have been deceitful here and there doesn’t make you a bad person. Avoid the temptation to label the other person as one of the bad guys, unless you’re willing to include yourself in that category. People — all types — are at times honest and at other times dishonest. Does this justify lying as good and beneficial to relationships? Of course not. But it does humanize it and takes away the victim/villain mentality.

Rather than immediately adding the person to your list of evil people, instead, try to be open to discovering what value or unmet need was behind their dishonesty.

Discovering the why

Everything we do stems from a value or need. People say and act in harmony with things they deem as important. If we want to repair a broken relationship after dishonesty, it’s our role to attempt to quit focusing on the lie and take a deep dive into learning more about the other person’s values and needs. Again, this isn’t about justifying dishonesty. We are simply exploring the why behind it for greater understanding. This is a difficult step because we tend to be quick to assign motives (to match the story we’ve created in our heads) instead of seeking understanding. It takes good listening skills and requires us to suspend our own judgments–easier said than done.

For example, if someone has always been told they’re wrong, from a young age, a core value they may have developed as a result is a need to be right. Since they obviously can’t always be right, they may find themselves telling lies to make it look that way. Or, if someone’s core value is being loved, and they fear the other person may no longer love them if they fess up to a discretion, a lie may seem the best way to supply that need of being loved. Does this make the lie OK? No. But it can help you understand the why, and develop a little empathy. You don’t have to agree with their value–it may be different from yours–but you do want to offer respect. The goal here is to suspend our negative character judgment of them and see them with more empathetic eyes.

When you’re ready to find out the whys, wait until you are in a calm place, and you’ve processed your emotions. You’re going to need to be brave and ask open-ended questions to discover what the other person valued or needed so much in the moment that they chose to be dishonest. Sometimes the answers you hear may be a reflection of your own past behavior. For example, if you freaked out on your friend the last time she shared that spent a weekend with other friends (not including you), she may be a little more hesitant to tell you openly about the next time she does. As you ask, then listen, see if you can uncover the value which was most important to them in the moment. For example, maybe she valued your peace of mind more than being honest, knowing you’d be deeply hurt if you found out. Or, her need was to spend time nurturing other friendships, even if that meant excluding you — so she chose to lie.  You may be surprised that all lies don’t stem from a place of selfishness. Again, you don’t have to agree with the other person’s values/needs — but understanding and acknowledging them can go a long way with the repair.

It’s not all or nothing

We have a tendency to think because one act of dishonesty has taken place that the entire relationship has gone down the drain. While it may feel like that, the truth is that this person most likely still possesses all the wonderful qualities you saw in him/her before the lie. Take a moment to write down all the positive qualities you value about this person, to help put the untruth in perspective. One lie doesn’t negate all the truths they’ve told you in the past. Instead of allowing the dishonesty to taint your entire view of the relationship, relegate it to its proper place: it’s a lie that happened in that moment around a specific event. Magnifying it to include all interaction you’ve ever had together won’t help things.

And don’t let yourself become a fortune teller.  Just because they lied today doesn’t mean they’ll lie to you tomorrow. You’ve heard the phrase, “Once a liar, always a liar”.  But is that true for you?  Have you ever told a lie about something once that you vowed to never lie about again — and haven’t? People can grow and change. If the relationship is important to you, give them a chance to redeem themselves and move forward in honesty.

Meeting each other’s needs

Now comes the hard part. It’s one thing to understand the other person’s values and unmet needs, but making adjustments to meet those needs is another story. Their needs may trigger your insecurities. But if you value the relationship, and want to restore it, you’ll want to try not to take it personally, and attempt to create a safe space for open communication.

Once both parties’ needs are on the table, you then get to decide if 1-you want to meet their needs, and 2-if you are willing to meet their needs and 3-if you can meet their needs. If you don’t want to, then own it. Your friend say she needs time with other friends which doesn’t include you. Your need is to be included in everything she does. You may come to realize you don’t want to, aren’t willing, and can’t meet her needs, and she may decide the same for yours. Fair enough. Express this as kindly as you can, and decide if the friendship can continue despite these unmet needs. If not, this may be where you decide to part.

However, maybe there are partial needs that can be met, and visa-versa. How could you adjust your needs and she adjust hers to find a compromise for the sake of the relationship? What can you give and what can she give, and which needs can be modified, and how, without sacrificing who you are and what you value? If your friendship is worth it, there’ll be a lot of give and take as you come to a place of agreement. You’ll likely to have to give in and bend a little, and she’ll need to do the same. If the two of you are having troubles negotiating, enlisting the help of a coach or counselor may be productive in coming to workable terms.

“You must trust and believe in people, or life becomes impossible.” — Anton Chekhov

It’s your choice

Choosing to trust again is just that — your choice. English author Sophie Kinsella said, “In the end, you have to choose whether or not to trust someone.” I know, it’s not easy. It’s hard to know when to protect your heart from future hurt or forgive and allow them back in. Betrayal by someone close to you is one of the most painful things to endure, and for good reason, you may decide it’s best to be done. If that’s the case, put it to rest as kindly as possible, then begin to take steps to move forward as you craft a new life without them. But if you write off every single person who is dishonest with you, you’ll end up very alone.

Healthy relationships are vital to our wellbeing. If it’s a relationship worth salvaging, choosing to trust again may be the very thing needed to renew and restore the friendship. Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” It will take time and repetition of good behavior on their part to rebuild your trust. Giving others the opportunity to do that, by choosing to trust, is the only way to create the space for them to be trustworthy again.

“The chief lesson I have learned in a long life that is the only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.” –Henry L. Stimson

When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

What is an open heart?

Article contributed by guest author Rick Hanson.

The Practice:

Put No One Out Of Your Heart.

Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. It makes your heart heavy and contracted. And it primes your brain to be more tense and reactive, which could get you into trouble, plus trigger the other person to act worse than ever.

Sometimes you do have to hang up the phone, block someone on Facebook, turn the channel on TV, or stay at a motel when visiting relatives. Sometimes you have to put someone out of your business, work group, holiday party list –or bed.

In painful or extreme situations, it may feel necessary to distance yourself utterly from another person for awhile or forever. Take care of yourself, and listen to that inner knowing about what’s best for you. You may need to put them out of your life. And you can see for yourself if you need to put them out of your heart.

How?

When your heart is open, what’s that feel like? Physically, in your chest – like warmth and relaxation – and in your body altogether. Emotionally – such as empathy, compassion, and an even keel. Mentally – like keeping things in perspective, and wishing others well.

Feel the strength being openhearted, wholehearted. Be not afraid and be of good heart. Paradoxically, the most open person in a relationship is usually the strongest one.

Get a sense of your heart being expansive and inclusive, like the sky. The sky stays open to all clouds, and it isn’t harmed by even the stormiest ones. Keeping your heart open makes it harder for others to upset you.

Notice that an open heart still allows for clarity about what works for you and what doesn’t, as well as firmness, boundaries, and straight talk. Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and the Dalai Lama are famous for keeping their hearts open while also being very effective.
Seeing all this, make a commitment to an open heart.

In this light, be mindful of what it feels like – physically, emotionally, mentally – to have your heart closed to a particular person. Be aware of the seemingly good reasons the reactive brain/mind throws up to justify this.

Then ask yourself, given the realities of this challenging person, what would have been a better path for you? For example, maybe you should have gotten more support from others or been more self-nurturing, so you wouldn’t have been as affected. Or spoken up sooner to try to prevent things from getting out of hand. Or managed your internal reactions more skillfully. Maybe you’ve done some things yourself to prompt the other person to be difficult. Whatever these lessons are, there’s no praise or blame here, just good learning for you.

And now, if you’re willing, explore opening your heart again to this person. Life’s been hard to him or her, too. Nothing might change in your behavior or in the nature of the relationship. Nonetheless, you’ll feel different – and better.

Last, do not put yourself out of your heart. If you knew you as another person, wouldn’t you want to hold that person in your heart?

A better way to fight

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m bad at fighting.

Most of my life I’ve been a conflict-avoider, sweeping potential disagreements under the proverbial rug. But these days I seem to face contentions head-on, boxing gloves poised and ready. This is good, for the most part–running from conflict rarely solves anything. However, now that I’m not afraid to take on the hard conversations and can bring up the minors before they become majors,  I realize I could use some fighting skills. It seems I’m doing it all wrong — taking things personally, bringing up past issues that have nothing to do with the present, throwing in hurtful digs, albeit slight and ‘hidden’ (but not really). I shut down after I speak my peace and am closed-minded and judgmental when the other person expresses their side of things, wounding my dissentient and getting my own feelings hurt in the process.

So I write this article for me. And for any of you who struggle when it comes to conflict resolve.

We’ve developed bad habits

Of course, we don’t make fighting a goal. In a perfect world, we’d tune into our emotions well before conflict arises and use these wise old friends to guide us as we manage our behavior, thwarting tensions before they erupt into battles. But then again, we’re human, imperfect and immature and insensitive at times, so it’s highly likely disagreements will evolve into fights. Most of us have picked up some poor habits, as early as childhood, and haven’t learned there is a better way.

But before we look into acquiring some new fighting skills, let’s determine first if your conflict management needs some work. Here are some things you don’t want to choose to do when troubles arise:

  • Fail to listen to the other person’s point of view with an open mind
  • Instead of seeking to find common ground, fight for your own way or ideas
  • Do most of the talking in disagreements
  • Feel extremely uncomfortable when conflict arises
  • Don’t use tact when voicing your concerns, rather, you demean the other person and/or their ideas and/or use crass language to prove your point
  • Say things like “always”, “never”, and “everyone thinks this way…” (as if you know how everyone else in the world thinks or does things)
  • Bring up the past to prove your point of “Here we go again…”
  • Use put downs and demeaning words, saying things you know you’ll regret later
  • View the other person as an adversary or foe because they don’t agree with you
  • Think things like, “If only they would change, this could be resolved.”
  • Quit and run away before the conflict is resolved
  • Use dishonesty to put an end to the conflict rather than being authentic with your feelings
  • View yourself as more superior, smarter, or ‘a better person’ because of how the other person is feeling/acting

Which of these best describes your boxing tactics?

It starts with Self-Awareness

Whether you choose one or all of the above when conflict hits, learning a new way of fighting can take some work. As with any behavior, we can make shifts in a new direction, but it’s not always easy. But devoting effort to the development of conflict resolve skills will serve us well when the next battle comes along.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.” ― Alaric Hutchinson

So where do we bad fighters start?

First of all, as with most things — becoming self-aware is a good initial step. Take note of the poor habits you use when fighting, write them down, and take a hard look at them. Do they serve you well or do they usually escalate the conflict, or cause further avoidance? How do you feel when you act that way? How does it make the other person feel when you act that way? Most likely the things you’re writing are not the most positive. It’s OK.  Recognizing the need to change often comes from acknowledging the hurt we are causing ourselves and others.

Managing our behavior

Now that you’re ready to make some shifts, simply acknowledging bad behaviors is not enough. And just erasing them won’t help either.  As with the breaking of any old habit, it’s beneficial to have a new toolkit at your disposal full of actions to replace ineffective behaviors.  Here are a few to try:

  • Separate the person from the problem.  Don’t let yourself go down the path of “this person is bad, wrong, selfish, etc.” because they have a differing opinion.  Fight the desire to label them and instead, focus on the disagreement at hand.
  • Lay down preconceived ideas. It’s easy to think you already have everything figured out before the conflict even begins. Be present and ask clarifying questions where needed so you’re sure you understand their viewpoint, not your interpretation of their viewpoint.
  • Take a deep breath and slow down.  An overload of feelings can cause an amygdala hijack.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes our emotions. Because the emotional processing in our brain happens much more quickly than the rational side, if the amygdala perceives the situation is at a “fight or flight” level of danger, it will trigger a response that shuts down the rational side of our brains, causing us to say and do things we’ll regret later. Trust me, this is something to avoid.
  • Listen to understand. Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and tune in to what they’re saying, and not saying.  Watch for body language (are they agitated, are they scared, etc.) and attempt to hear what they need/want in this situation, not just what is coming out of their mouth.
  • Before speaking, ask yourself, “Will this help or hurt the situation?”  Sounds simple, but it’s very effective! Choose your words carefully and be sure not to throw out insults or put-downs in the heat of the moment.
  • Remind yourself that their way may be a better way. Be curious. Have an open mind and think of the conversation as a way to brainstorm creative new ideas rather than taking offense because they don’t agree with you.

“When we aren’t curious in conversations we judge, tell, blame and even shame, often without even knowing it, which leads to conflict.” — Kristen Siggins

  • Don’t attach judgments about their character because of their opinions. Again, separate out the issue from the person and fight the urge to jump to conclusions about their moral integrity just because you don’t like what they’re saying.
  • Be aware that the other person is experiencing his/her own set of emotions.  There may be drivers going on that you’re not aware of — past hurts, disappointments, or struggles that the other person is dealing with.  Offer some grace, in the moment, as you seek to understand the why behind their actions or words.
  • Find a way to say something valuing about the other person. Even if you don’t agree with them, making the other person feel valued for who they are, in the heat of an argument, can do wonders to diffusing anger and frustration levels. A great sentence starter is, “You know what I like about you?” then fill in the rest with a sincere, kind word.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — ancient proverb

  • Remember that the goal here is coming to a solution that works for both parties, not getting your own way. This may mean you have to reach a compromise where both of you give up a little to arrive at a peaceful outcome.

I know, easier said than done. If this list seems daunting, pick just one goal and focus on it for the next few weeks. Talk to a coach or counselor about the areas you struggle most with and seek an outside opinion on how you could begin to make some shifts. Then get out there and practice.

For those of you (us) who have done it all wrong, going back to that person and offering a sincere, “I’m sorry” can do wonders to soften pain of the blows you delivered. It takes humility and courage to admit our errors and ask forgiveness of the other person. They may reject you, scoff at you, or even attempt to continue the fight — but these three magical words can do as much for your own angry heart as it can the other person.

Unless you live on an uninhabited, deserted island, where you have no contact with others, there will be conflicts on the road ahead. Coming prepared with healthy, helpful tactics will enable both of you to stay standing at the end of each round. Even better, as you work on your own conflict management skills, you may come to realize that it was never a fight at all, but a passionate interaction between two unique and worthy individuals, on the same team, working toward the same goal, each offering the gift of learning something new.

“We meet aliens every day who have something to give us. They come in the form of people with different opinions.” — William Shatner

Does it matter if others like you?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

How often have you heard someone say, “I don’t care if they like me, as long as they respect me”?

With friends and family, we seem to understand the importance of caring, compassion and connection. We grasp that exhibiting interpersonal skills can go a long way toward building effective, lasting personal relationships. But what about at work? Why is it that some, in the professional realm, think that the components of successful work relationships are somehow different, often replacing rapport, empathy and authenticity with stiff, formal mannerisms we label as professionalism?

Interpersonal effectiveness is a competency of emotional intelligence and is vital to connecting with others. It means being attuned to others, showing sensitivity and understanding in their interests, putting them at ease, and being able to relate well to all sorts of personality types. Those with strong interpersonal effectiveness are empathetic and seek to understand others. This competency involves using diplomacy and tact — in other words, learning people skills and putting them to use.

Those who are good at getting along well with others have an understanding about how the social world works. They know what is expected in social situations and pick up quickly on social cues. They know how to take a genuine interest in other people, what they do, and why they do it. They are curious about how others think and have developed excellent listening skills.

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.” — Theodore Roosevelt

You can tell you’re good at this if you stop and listen to yourself in conversations. Do you ask more open-ended questions than closed ones, and let others do most of the talking? If so, you’re probably demonstrating strong interpersonal effectiveness. You most likely are good at building new relationships and mending broken ones. You respect differences in others (religious, gender, political, socioeconomic, communication styles, etc.) and know how to mirror others to build rapport. People strong in this competency have a contagious, positive, enthusiastic outlook and others want to be around them.

Do you know anyone like this in your workplace?  If yes, do you like being around them and working on projects with them? If you could name one quality you appreciate most about them, what would it be?

On the other hand, some have difficulty connecting to others. These are the type we describe as being a little ‘rough around the edges.”  They may come across arrogant, insensitive, unapproachable, or cold.  In meetings, they may demean others’ ideas and be quick to jump in with their own opinions and solutions before hearing others out. They may keep to themselves and not take the time to build rapport, because they’re either too busy or don’t see the need.

Can you think of anyone like this in your workplace? If yes, do you like being around the and working on projects with them?

“I will pay more for the ability to deal with others than for any other ability under the sun.” — John D. Rockefeller

But does it matter if our colleagues like us?  It does. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, vibrant social connections at work help you be more productive, and can even ramp up the passion you have toward your work — causing you to be less likely to quit. In another study, by Officevibe, researchers found that 70% of the participants said having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy working life, and 58% of men said they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with coworkers. (https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/workplace-friendships).

Relationships are relationships, whether personal or professional. And all relationships require nurture and effort in order for them to be successful. Whether you are a good team player or not, you’re not going to get far trying to go it alone.

“Each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it.” — Anais Nin

Interpersonal skills are something we can all develop, if we devote some time and energy into learning a new way of interacting. Here are a few ideas to get started:

  • Self-awareness is always a good starting point.  Consider completing a 360 assessment that measures your social and emotional intelligence skills to serve as a launchpad to your growth.
  • Notice how others respond to you when you walk in the room or open your mouth to speak. In order to do this, you’ll need to make eye contact. Do others seem nervous, speaking quickly or stumbling over their words? Are they too quick to agree with you (out of fear of upsetting you) or rarely speak their mind? Watch for verbal and non-verbal signals.  This practice of noticing will help you begin to focus on others in each moment.
  • Seek to understand. When you speak, is it all about communicating your own ideas, or are you open to hearing what others have to say? Asking open-ended questions which draw others out will help you understand the why behind their behaviors and actions.
  • Get rid of distractions. Put down your phone when you talk with others and stop multi-tasking when others speak. Show them that you can make time to listen to them and that what they have to say is important.
  • Share about you. You don’t have to tell every person your entire life story or the play-by-play of your current drama, but let your teams and colleagues know the why behind your decisions, or the methodology of how you got there.  Splash conversations with bits of  your personal life and ask about theirs. As you model authenticity, you’ll encourage others to feel safe in opening up to you.
  • Be open to learning.  It’s OK to admit your interpersonal skills may be lacking. If needed, take a class, read a book, or talk to a coach about how to grow in this area. Think of someone who is good at getting along with others and seek advice from them.
  • Start today. Even if your interpersonal skills need work, you can still get started today by taking small steps. Simple things like smiling, expressing gratitude, putting down your phone in conversations, and using appropriate humor are a few ideas you could try as you get started.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice your new-found skills with everyone you meet, whether it’s your boss, a coworker, or the janitor who cleans your office. The more you try out your people skills, with all types of people, the more natural they will feel and become.

Remember, to begin to interact with others on deeper levels, you’re going to need to slow down. If you normally work through lunch, consider asking a colleague to join you once a week. If you work with your door closed, try leaving it open sometimes so others know they can pop in if needed. Take an extra five minutes each day to ask your coworkers and employees about their personal lives — their kids, their dogs, their last vacation, what are their holiday plans? People feel valued when you take the time to get to know them and it builds trust.

You may think you don’t care if others like you. And you may think all that matters is that you have others’ respect. Yet I find that often when people like you (and know you, and understand you), the respect comes naturally, as a next step, and they begin to value the real you. If you have any hopes of being a leader–a good one, that is–growing in interpersonal effectiveness is an invaluable skill set you simply must take the time to develop.

“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.” — Mahatma Ghandi

 

Diffusing family feuds over the holidays

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

If you dread holiday gatherings because you have to spend time with your family, you’re not alone. I’ve talked with so many who say they wish they could just skip the holidays so they don’t have to ‘deal’ with certain family members. And if you’ve ever had conflict with someone you’re ‘supposed’ to get along with, you know how rough that can be. With certain members of your tribe, you probably can even predict exactly how long it will take before a disagreement will begin–10 minutes after walking in the door–as soon as you sit down to dinner–when Uncle George brings up politics–it seems to happen at the same time and around the same issues, year after year.

Unless you’ve opted to ditch the family altogether and hop a plane to a tropical island, it’s most likely you’ll be interacting with the clan a good deal over the next few days. But it doesn’t have to be a place of arguing and bickering. I’d like to offer an alternate solution…something you can do to help to keep negative situations from escalating into an all out family feud. But before we go there — I want to suggest three things you can’t do:

  1. You can’t control what others think of you.
  2. You can’t control what others say about you.
  3. You can’t control what others do.

In other words, you can’t control others. No matter how much you may want to, you don’t get to be a puppeteer and pull the strings to make everyone act in a way you would like. But what you can do is control your own thoughts and actions, especially your own communication skills. Choosing to be intentional about how you communicate with your family can have a direct influence on the nature of  interactions at your upcoming holiday celebrations.

Communication is the ability to listen deeply to understand what others are saying, and in turn send clear and convincing messages back to them. It can take the form of verbal or non-verbal — often people say as much with the expression on their face as with the words that come out of their mouth. And again, though you can’t control how others communicate with you, you can manage how you communicate with them.

What does it look like to be a good communicator?  Some seem to think if they talk loudly enough to command others’ attention that they have this competency down pat. But I beg to differ. People who have strong communication skills often aren’t the ones doing most of the talking. They are able to put others at ease so they feel comfortable sharing openly. They are effective in give-and-take, knowing when to talk and when to let others speak. They listen to understand, as opposed to listening to prep what they want to say next. They are able to hear feedback without becoming defensive, can deal with difficult conversations straightforwardly without the need to retaliate or run away, and make others feel valued for their opinions and outlooks, even if they differ from their own.

Those who struggle with communication–and a few particular family members may immediately come to mind–can be difficult to connect with and come across as unapproachable. They may interrupt, or talk too much, or fail to listen when you speak–and isn’t it so easy to tell when someone’s not listening? They lack tact when expressing their opinions and tend to think it’s their way or the highway. They often don’t ask open-ended questions or seek to understand the why’s behind what someone is saying. They rarely make good eye contact and often won’t pause to let others respond or jump in. They may even ridicule others or have emotional outbursts when things get heated.

Sound familiar?

Again, you can’t control those who are poor communicators. And that should come as a relief. Knowing there’s not a thing you can do to keep Aunt Ethel from sharing too much information about her bowel troubles, or to prevent Cousin Mike from bragging about his recent promotion, or to prevent dad from hurling insults about your career aspirations (or lack of) is very freeing. It’s hard enough to control yourself, let alone attempting to herd everyone around you. Who has time and energy for that? What you CAN do is manage and modify your own behavior to make interactions with family members as pleasant as possible.

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.” Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It takes effort to be intentional about your conversations, and preparing ahead of time can help. Thinking about behaviors which can enhance conversations as well as knowing which ones to avoid will enable you to walk through that door with confidence, no matter whom you’re about to face. Then, in the moment, you get to choose to act appropriately despite what others say or do.

To keep conversations positive and prevent them from going downhill this holiday season, here are some behaviors you can try:

  • Smile.  Sounds simple, but mustering up a genuine smile when you first see the family can help diffuse negativity from the start. Your body language communicates attitude far before your mouth forms words. As well, a warm hug, when appropriate, can work wonders. Research has found that a 20-second hug actually releases oxytocin, one of the feel-good hormones, into our system, which can work miracles toward melting down tension and negativity. I realize that long of a hug may be a little awkward–and not appropriate with some–but you get the idea.

“Peace begins with a smile.” ― Mother Teresa

  • Ask to understand. Think of conversations as a portal to learn more about the other person, rather than a chance to speak your peace. A good rule of thumb is to ask more than tell. Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”, try asking the hows and whys.  “How do you like your new job?”  “Why did you choose [insert location] for your vacation?” “I’d love to know more about how you [insert topic]. ” Asking open-ended questions can make the other person feel valued and help you see things from their frame of reference.

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective.” –Sterling K. Brown

  • Actively listen. Have you ever caught yourself asking a question then not even listening to the answer? We all do it. Tuning into what the other person is saying, asking questions to clarify, and repeating back what you heard shows you care. Nod when you agree. Mirror their expressions as you hold eye contact. Try to picture what they’re describing (except maybe Aunt Ethel’s bodily function details!). Good listening makes others feel valued and enables you to learn more about them.

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
― G. K. Chesterton

  • Discard distractions. Simply put, put your phone away.  There’s nothing more devaluing than someone glancing at their phone while you’re talking…so don’t do the same to others. Even better, turn it off for a few hours so you can really focus on the person in front of you.

“Cell phones bring you closer to the person far from you, but take you away from the ones sitting next to you.” — Anonymous

  • Build bridges. Look for “me too” moments–common ground upon which you can both agree. Listening for shared experiences, shared dreams, and shared emotions, and letting them know you can relate, builds rapport and connection. Focusing on what you agree upon can diffuse tensions that arise from being at odds.

“No matter what message you are about to deliver somewhere, whether it is holding out a hand of friendship, or making clear that you disapprove of something, is the fact that the person sitting across the table is a human being, so the goal is to always establish common ground. ” –Madeleine Albright

  • Resist rivalry. When someone says something that feels like an insult, it’s easy to come back with a retort of your own. If possible, try not to take things personally, even if comments sound as if they’re (or are!) directed to you. Usually when someone puts another down, it is coming from a dark and empty place within their own heart. Offering compassion and realizing they may in a struggle you don’t understand can help you resist the temptation to view them as an opponent.

“Don’t take anything personally.  Nothing others do is because of you.”  — Don Miguel Ruiz

  • Express appreciation. Everyone likes to hear a compliment. Try to find something about the person or what they’re saying that you like, even if most of what’s coming out of their mouth is annoying you. Offer a sincere compliment–it is better-received than any festively-wrapped gift.  It could be as simple as, “I like the way you think about that” or “I value the direction you’re going”, or “That was a thoughtful thing to do”, etc. A great sentence starter is, “Do you know what I like about you?”

“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” — ancient proverb

  • Find the fun. It’s hard to keep your sense of humor when others are stomping on your last nerve. But retaining your ability to ‘laugh at the craziness’ can go a long way in keeping things positive.  Of course your humor should never be demeaning or hurtful, but stepping back and grinning at the ‘uniqueness’ of each family member can help keep spirits bright.

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.” — Dwight David Eisenhower

Intentionally steering your conversations down a positive path this holiday can be a great start toward building better family bonds. It won’t be perfect…bad habits can take a while to break. But doing your part to create uplifting, engaging conversations is vital to developing authentic, amicable interactions with the family and can help avoid feuds. And you’ll feel better knowing you showed up with your best. Will it be easy? No. But will it be worth it?  Yes.

“Getting along well with other people is still the world’s most needed skill. With it…there is no limit to what person can do. We need people, we need the cooperation of others.” — Earl Nightingale

Putting a stop to poor behavior

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Have you ever reacted poorly to a situation that you regretted later?

Yeah, me neither.

Of course I say that tongue-in-cheek. If we are human and breathe air, we all have reacted in a way that could’ve left something to be desired, probably more times than not. When our ‘hot button’ is pressed, it is easy to slip down a path of hurtful, destructive behavior.  In the moment, reacting out of frustration or anger ‘seems’ to be the right thing.  But later, you know the sick feeling that sets in. Whether it’s when you’re cut off in traffic, or being disrespected by your manager, or during an argument with a loved one, it’s easy to allow someone else to trigger our bad behaviors.  But we are not helpless to our poor choices. Notice I used the word allow.  Others can’t make us act poorly — that’s on us.  We get to decide how we allow ourselves to react in difficult situations.

I don’t know how many people I’ve heard say, “This is just who I am” in response to being called out on poor behavior.  As if there’s nothing that can be done because it’s who they are, down to their DNA wiring. And that’s usually where the excuses follow: “My dad was this way”, or “that person made me mad”,  or “she disrespected me”, “I felt lonely”, or “it’s the only way I’ve known.” Think of the excuses you’ve heard when you’ve called someone out on poor behavior.  Or think of the excuses you use when someone calls you out. But reacting poorly does not need to define who we are — it defines what we do…actions, responses, behavior.  And the good new is, behavior can be changed.

Behavioral self-control is a competency of emotional intelligence and one that has a powerful impact on the quality of our relationships. Those who are strong in behavioral self-control are able to manage their impulsive feelings, even when distressed or in trying moments.  In times of pain or conflict, they can think clearly and remain ‘cool under pressure.’  They are able to restrain negative reactions that can be hurtful to themselves and others, and make the choice to not escalate the problem when attacked or provoked.

Those that struggle in this area — which is most of us — tend to react impulsively and respond to struggles in a non-constructive way. They tend to get involved in inappropriate situations because they don’t think they can resist temptations, and become angry, depressed or agitated when faced with stresses that trigger hurt feelings.

“He who blows his top loses all his thinking matter.” — Chinese proverb

If you’re one to tends to act poorly when under stressful or hurtful situations, take heart. Again, this is not who you are but how you’re acting.  Making an effort to  shift ways of thinking and behaving is something we are all capable of.  Self-awareness is a good first step. Do you recognize poor behaviors in your past?  Do you recognize any trends (are you doing the same sort of things when the same sort of negative events are encircling you)?

Once you’re aware and decide that you’d like to make a shift, consider asking yourself these questions to move toward more healthy reactions:

  • What are my triggers? Write down the incidents and feelings that cause a negative response.  These may be the same situations in which you act on impulse, and it is good to name these.  At this point, don’t try to figure out why they are hot buttons–just write them down to get them out in front of you.
  • What am I feeling?  In these trigger moments, what are you feeling and where in your body are you feeling it?  Does your heart race?  Do you get a headache?  Do you feel shame?  Do you feel angry toward someone not involved in the current situation? Do you feel sick to your stomach or do your hands start to shake? Do you feel depressed or discouraged?  Start noting what you’re feeling in these moments of tension.
  • What am I telling myself?  Positive self-talk is vital to making a shift from poor behaviors to more constructive ones.  Note what that little voice whispers to you in the moments of stress.  Some common negative self-conversations are: “This [insert poor choice] is what I get  because I’m a bad person”, “I’ve worked hard so I deserve [insert poor choice]”, or “I always mess this up, so what does it matter if I [insert poor behavior]?” Be honest on this one — learning to hear your negative self-talk and stopping it when it happens can help you rewrite your behavioral story.
  • How do I react? Write down any typical behaviors you’ve engaged in when you feel those feelings and hear that negative self-talk.  Do you drink too much? Do you lash out at someone else?  Do you hide and withdraw from relationships? Do you seek out unhealthy relationships just to feel connection? Do you go shopping? Be honest with yourself and note the route you usually choose when your triggers are set off. Again, being aware of these is a great place to start.
  • How do these behaviors make me feel? In the moment, poor behaviors can give us a temporary ‘lift’ — but the guilt and regret that sets in shortly after often take away that high and can lead to self-loathing and depression.  Make a 2-column chart and label the first “what I do” and in the second “how I feel”.  It’s helpful to see the correlation between behaviors and the resulting feelings.
  • What damage have I caused? Take a moment to write out the cost of the hurtful behavior.  It may be “I blew my budget again”, “I had a terrible hangover”, “I’ve ruined my chance at a promotion”, or “I’ve broken someone’s trust”.  Whatever it is, the best thing at this point is to own it by recognizing damage done.
  • How could I respond differently? Again we’re back to choice — we get to choose how we respond.  For each of your triggers, write out an alternative response that could potentially bring about more positive results.  Knowing there are other choices to make can help when your button is pushed next time…and there will be a next time.  Coming up with new ways of responding is a way of preparing yourself for those future struggles.
  • How will I feel when I choose a better response? Self-worth, proud, happy, confident, etc. Come up with your own words, write them down, and post them somewhere you can see them every day.

Finding a trusted friend, counselor, or coach to help you stay accountable as you embark on this new path can be a great resource. Just speaking your intentions out loud to someone can help with awareness next time it happens. You don’t have to do this alone.

Finally, learn to forgive yourself. You’re going to mess up — we all do — and even though you had good intentions on reacting better, you’ll still find yourself saying or doing something you wish you hadn’t have from time to time. Apologize where needed, ask yourself the above questions again, spend some time talking to  friend, coach, or counselor, then get out there and try again. Author Steve Goodier says this:

“Bring it up, make amends, forgive yourself. It sounds simple, but don’t think for a second that it is easy. Getting free from the tyranny of past mistakes can be hard work, but definitely worth the effort. And the payoff is health, wholeness and inner peace. In other words, you get your life back.”

Some hurtful actions may have greater consequences than others, and you’ll have to deal with those. Poor behaviors, especially those you do on a consistent basis, can destroy friendships and break down relationships. Some relationships will need to be put to rest because some behaviors are too painful for the other person to deal with or forgive. But don’t let that keep you from getting up the next morning and trying again.

Remember that making shifts in a new direction isn’t something that happens overnight, and it’s not easy. It’s hard work, exhausting at times, and you may hit places of doubting whether or not you can ever behave any differently.  Stay in the fight. Your progress may be slow, but well worth the effort.  Your sense of self-value, knowing that you have control over how you act, is empowering and will open you up to healthier, happier relationships.  You got this.

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world, as in being able to remake ourselves.” — Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

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