When we are upset with someone, we often find ourselves fighting with them when we are in the shower, driving to work, or trying to fall asleep at night. We waste countless hours defending our position to a person who isn’t there, in response to words that haven’t been spoken. We are so determined to win the argument we prepare ourselves for battle rather than conflict resolution.
Instead of imagining all the ways the conversation could go wrong, we can shift our focus toward what we can do to increase the likelihood that the conversation goes well. And to do this, we have to change our internal dialogue if there is any hope of settling our differences and walking away without regrets for what we said.
“Speak when you are angry, and it will be the best speech you will ever regret”
– Ambrose Bierce
Having an uncomfortable conversation is never fun, but there are ways to make it easier and set yourself up for success. The key is to approach the talk in a constructive way, with a positive attitude, clear intention, and a plan of action.
1. Understand the Problem
It’s important to determine what is truly upsetting us first. That way we don’t waste time arguing about the symptom rather than the problem. For example, it’s common to fight about chores at home or extra tasks at work, when we are really upset or frustrated that it feels like someone isn’t respecting our time.
2. Shift Your Mental State
Research has shown that our minds are state-specific. This means that bad moods bias our memory in a negative way that can make us more fearful, overly cautious, or emotionally reactive, and that can impede our ability to think through a problem clearly.
Good moods, on the other hand, enhance our ability to think more flexibly and with greater complexity. Good moods also make us better problem-solvers.
Prior to your conversation, try doing something fun or light-hearted. Binge on funny animal videos or take a walk in your favorite park. You can also calm down by doing a mantra mudra such as Peace Begins with Me https://youtu.be/vQlSz0v0j4g
3. Have Empathy
Reminding ourselves to have empathy for the other person helps us approach them with less anger and resentment. Taking a moment to imagine things from their perspective will have a profound effect on the conversation.
If you are about to have a heated discussion with someone you generally dislike, I find it helps to picture them as someone you care about first. Ask yourself, how would I approach this situation with someone I really respect? You will be amazed by how much this will help when it comes to your delivery.
4. Be Mindful
Being fully present and self-aware makes it easier to stay clear, hear the other person, and respond wisely. If we feel ourselves becoming emotionally charged, we can quickly pause, gather our thoughts, and regain self-control.
5. Use Non-confrontational Language
Being prepared with non-confrontational language to communicate our point is extremely important. I can’t stress this enough.
Research has shown that accusatory ‘you’ statements often lead to a defensive response. On the other hand, ‘I’ statements facilitate empathy and understanding.
I feel unheard, which makes me sad.
You aren’t listening to me, so you obviously don’t care.
When we use ‘you’ statements we are basically blaming the other person for the entire situation, which is unproductive and leads me to my next suggestion.
6. Don’t Play the Blame Game
Dr. Brené Brown covers this topic quite a bit during her talks on vulnerability.
Her research has shown it is a natural human tendency during an argument to blame the other person because our brains want to know “whose fault is it?” But blaming almost never helps a conversation move forward, and as you’ve probably experienced, it only serves to put the other person on the defensive.
Brown also states “blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability.” She says accountability by definition is a vulnerable process and is essential to conflict resolution.
If we aren’t ready to take ownership of our own feelings and actions, we aren’t ready to have the conversation.
7. Prepare to Listen
Many conflicts are simply a result of misunderstanding one another.
Plan to repeat back what you heard before you respond. This will show you are listening and allow for clarification. In fact, one of the single most effective skills we can learn for effective communication is to come from a place of genuine curiosity about the other person’s perspective with the goal of understanding their position. Understanding leads to empathy and a clearer, more complete perspective of the conflict at hand.
8. Timing is Everything
Blind-siding people with our anger when it’s inappropriate or an inconvenient time rarely leads to a productive talk. Ask them when a good time would be to chat.
If you do let your emotions take over and all your preparation goes out the window, give yourself a day to calm down. When you are ready, tell the person you didn’t show up the way you would have liked to and ask for another opportunity. Most people are very forgiving if you show vulnerability and a true desire to work things out.