No matter how you feel about the results of the election, this week has been fraught with painful “conversations” in the worst forms — protests, hate spewing, anguish, gloating, bullying. We want to hide our heads under the covers, shout our own truth from the rooftops or go back to the sweet bygone era where a “facebook” was an annual publication we could pull off the shelf to reminisce from (or cringe at…two words: eighties hair!), not a worldwide personal soapbox that was forever etched in the tomb-like walls of the Internet! In the word of Albert Einstein, “There’s been a quantum leap technologically in our age, but unless there’s another quantum leap in human relations, unless we learn to live in a new way towards one another, there will be a catastrophe.”
Can anyone really hear anyone else? REALLY hear them. Their feelings, their hurt, their fears or their elation, their relief, their faith-restored? All of those messages are underneath the messy, clumsy, heart-hurting words and actions. Yet somehow we struggle, especially when emotions run high, to get our message across and it comes out all wrong — raw emotion instead of real meaning, closing doors instead of opening them leaving everyone feeling more lost, confused and decidedly NOT heard.
Having difficult conversations doesn’t have to be as difficult as we make it, though, even in the worst circumstances. Sure emotions run high. We don’t want to do more damage. We want to avoid conflict (or feel perilously close to the edge of exploding into it!) but we SO want to get our message across and be understood! All of those crashing into one another make it really difficult to find the right words. In fact, an overabundance of stress and emotions actually tends to numb our language and ability to articulate what’s really on our hearts or in our minds! That part of the brain literally shuts down on some level. It definitely can then numb how well we feel heard, how well we hear the other person and, most of all, how well we can reach a place of mutual understanding. SO, we avoid those conversations, dance around them, stumble/crash our way messily into them only to find ourselves in a conversation/argument we didn’t want to have that leaves both feeling bruised and battered and definitely less likely to try to approach sticky, painful or difficult subjects again.
This week has been laden with difficult, intense emotions …all over the place! Which means our ability to speak, write or articulate our feelings has been decidedly limited (thanks to the aforementioned effect of emotions on language!). People are trying to be heard, trying to hear and trying to reach a place where we can all just get along (or at the very least where we can all continue to share this planet). The chasm seems way too wide. The “how” of getting our own message across, far too complicated or messy so we make other attempts that may or may not leave an emotional “body count” in our wake.
Whether it’s about this week’s election, or any other difficult topic, there ARE ways to be heard, to hear and to somehow come to a place of peace and understanding. Remembering these three essential steps in challenging conversations will not only improve your relationships, but they’ll give you a feeling of confidence and assurance that you can be heard, no matter what your feelings, even by those who disagree. It doesn’t mean the outcome will always be walking off into the sunset arm in arm, but it will allow two well-meaning people’s feelings to be heard.
- Acknowledge THE OTHER person’s perspective
- If you want to enter someone’s home, the best way to do that is if the homeowner actually opens the door lets you in versus, the, not-so-uber-popular way of, barging through the front door and forcing our way into their space. It’s exactly like that in conversations. If we really want to be heard, then we have to be “invited in” by creating an openness on the part of the other person to hear us. Makes sense, right? The first way to do that is to help the other person feel understand. “When people respond too quickly, they often respond to the wrong issue. Listening helps us focus on the heart of the conflict. When we listen, understand, and respect each other’s ideas, we can then find a solution in which both of us are winners.” Dr. Gary Chapman.
- By noticing, understanding and then communicating what you see as their perspective, you will help to create an environment of openness. Doing this first, helps the other person feel as if they can listen to yours. Validate that your understanding is accurate and then move on to…
- Acknowledge and express YOUR perspective
- Express how you feel, your thoughts, the world from your point of view. “There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya Angelou.
- Using lots of “I feel” or “I think” statements is key here. If that person is open to hearing us, we don’t want to welcome them in only to feel more attacked so the way in which you phrase things is really important. Avoid “you” statements (if you doubt this, just practice a hypothetical situation of someone speaking to you in that way. (Doesn’t feel good, does it?)
- Build a bridge
- Aha…this is the magic step. Somehow you have to bridge the chasm that exists between them and you after both sides have felt acknowledged. Using questions like, “how do you think we might get to a place of agreeing to disagree?” or “here are my thoughts about how we might work to resolve it, what are yours?”. Avoid extremes and the “my way or the highway” mentality. Invite the other person into the solution (wouldn’t you like that if on the other side of this situation?) by using “we” language. You’ll get there somehow, or at least part more peacefully than if you’d just come in with both guns blazing.
Good communication is the bridge between confusion and clarity. Nat Turner
It’s a simple process, and may seem obvious, and yet in the heat of the moment, these communication basics often get thrown to the curb. Instead our poorly articulated feelings come barreling through with demands, criticisms and lots of other verbal weaponry, and we’re left even worse off than before.
We can’t be responsible for how that person will react or if they’re in a healthy enough place to work with you on this, but at least this puts YOU in a position of feeling like your best, strongest self…and THAT is a bridge within your own soul to a more authentic you.
Here’s building more bridges (even if all you can do is pass this post along).
P.S. I am always here to help. I’d love to hear from you – don’t hesitate to reach out.
“Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.” Max Lucado
“Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.” Ronald Reagan