In my last post I described the language and skills that give us power to return to presence and centered-ness when we are in conflict; we can turn conflict into understanding and connection within ourselves and with others. From a place connection, we have the ability to meet our needs with greater clarity, effectiveness and ease. We can then enjoy contributing to one another’s well being, and work together to solve challenges in ways that can get everyone’s needs met.
When we are in conflict we are often thinking and communicating in a way that mixes both our observation of what happened and our evaluation of it. Our evaluations often express our unmet needs – what we want, care about and is important to us as human beings – in terms of moralistic judgment, blame, demands, etc. For example, if my coworker started talking before I was finished speaking in a meeting, that might not have met needs in me for consideration and respect, but my thoughts and communications toward this person could be, “how rude and inconsiderate they are.” The difficulty with this is that when we think and communicate this way, not only does it produce stress and distress within us, it also tends to create damaging conflict and disconnection with others and leads us to react in ways that produce the opposite of what will actually meet our needs.
I’ll give you an example. I started a business called SimplePayday with a friend of mine a few years ago. We were constantly arguing, bickerring to the stage that the working environment became just as nearly toxic as the loan products we were selling. This environment wasn’t good for business and it wasn’t good for either of us.
How Iworked through this was simply to simply start not reacting.
So, one aspect of turning conflict into presence and connection is to practice observing and witnessing the difference between what happened (e.g. someone starting to talk before I finished speaking) and our thoughts and reactions to it, our evaluation (e.g. moralistic thinking about this person being “rude and inconsiderate,” which expresses the underlying evaluation that my needs for consideration and respect were not met). We can learn to not only be the observing presence of our thinking, but also how to translate thinking into underlying needs being expressed and wanting to be met. The larger extension of this is the principle that all thoughts and all behavior/actions are attempting to meet underlying needs that we all share in common. By relating to our inner experience this way, we not only feel a lot better (i.e. inner peace, relaxation, enjoyment of life, well being, etc.), but we can then also express ourselves and communicate in more effective ways.
In the example above, connecting to ourselves and others in the way I’m describing might look like: “I observe my thoughts and judgments of “rude and inconsiderate,” then focus on my needs for consideration and respect. As I focus on my needs instead being caught up in reactive thinking, I feel a shift inside me to calm, relaxation and non-judgment. I might then wonder what needs this other person may have been trying to meet when they did what they did. I could guess this person might have been feeling anxious to contribute something they thought was very meaningful and important, and perhaps they were also worried they wouldn’t be heard unless they spoke up strongly. Imagining this I feel more relaxation and also a growing sense of connection and compassion for this person. Having done this self-connection work, I could then approach this person on my team and say something to the effect, “At one point in the meeting yesterday you spoke up before I was finished talking and I would have liked more consideration about that. Where you aware that this happened?” And from here we could quickly and amicably resolve the issue with mutual understanding and get clarity on how to support one another in future meetings.
You can try this process yourself. Now or the next time you feel an angry or upset reaction to someone, see if you can shift into first observing in your mind what happened, the specific action/behavior/words, and then separating this from the thoughts and evaluations you are having about it. Take some time to just be present do this in yourself, perhaps also breathing mindfully and feeling your body while you do it. Then see if you can find your needs being expressed by that thinking. Is it about trust, safety, security, inclusion, care? Your body will tell you when you’ve found the word or words that fit. As you connect to yourself this way, notice what you experience. Do you feel a “shift” inside you? Is there peace and relaxation, a feeling of connection, clarity about taking effective action? What needs do you imagine the other person was trying to meet, even though you don’t like how they were meeting their needs? Give it a try and see what happens.