Conventional wisdom (and research) says that good communication can improve relationships, increasing intimacy, trust, and support. The converse is also true: poor communication can weaken bonds, creating stress, mistrust and even contempt! Because conflict is virtually inevitable in relationships (and not necessarily a sign of trouble), you can reduce a significant amount of stress and strengthen your relationships at the same time if you build the knowledge and skills to handle conflict in a healthy way.
Here are some examples of negative and even destructive attitudes and communication patterns that can exacerbate conflict in a relationship. How many of these sound like something you’d do?
Avoiding Conflict Altogether
Rather than discussing building frustrations in a calm, respectful manner, some people just don’t say anything to their partner until they’re ready to explode, and then blurt it out in an angry, hurtful way. This seems to be the less stressful route—avoiding an argument altogether—but usually causes more stress to both parties as tensions rise, resentments fester, and a much bigger argument eventually results. It’s much healthier to address and resolve conflict.
These assertiveness communication skills can help you to say things in a way where you will be more likely to be heard, without being disrespectful to the other person.
Rather than addressing a partner’s complaints with an objective eye and willingness to understand the other person’s point of view, defensive people steadfastly deny any wrongdoing and work hard to avoid looking at the possibility that they could be contributing to a problem. Denying responsibility may seem to alleviate stress in the short run, but creates long-term problems when partners don’t feel listened to and unresolved conflicts and continue to grow.
When something happens that they don’t like, some blow it out of proportion by making sweeping generalizations. Avoid starting sentences with, “You always,” and, “You never,” as in, “You always come home late!” or, “You never do what I want to do!” Stop and think about whether or not this is really true. Also, don’t bring up past conflicts to throw the discussion off-topic and stir up more negativity. This stands in the way of true conflict resolution and increases the level of conflict.
Sometimes we’re not aware of the ways the mind can blow things out of proportion. This list of common cognitive distortions can get in the way of healthy relationships with others and can exacerbate stress levels. See which ones may be familiar to you.
It’s damaging to decide that there’s a “right” way to look at things and a “wrong” way to look at things and that your way of seeing things is right. Don’t demand that your partner see things the same way, and don’t take it as a personal attack if they have a different opinion. Look for a compromise or agreeing to disagree, and remember that there’s not always a “right” or a “wrong,” and that two points of view can both be valid.
“Psychoanalyzing” / Mind-Reading
nstead of asking about their partner’s thoughts and feelings, people sometimes decide that they “know” what their partners are thinking and feeling based only on faulty interpretations of their actions—and always assume it’s negative! (For example, deciding a late mate doesn’t care enough to be on time, or that a tired partner is denying sex out of passive-aggressiveness.) This creates hostility and misunderstandings. It’s important to keep in mind that we all come from a unique perspective, and work hard to assume nothing; really listen to the other person and let them explain where they are coming from.
Forgetting to Listen
Some people interrupt, roll their eyes, and rehearse what they’re going to say next instead of truly listening and attempting to understand their partner. This keeps you from seeing their point of view, and keeps your partner from wanting to see yours! Don’t underestimate the importance of really listening and empathizing with the other person! These listening skills are important to bear in mind.
Playing the Blame Game
Some people handle conflict by criticizing and blaming the other person for the situation. They see admitting any weakness on their own part as a weakening of their credibility, and avoid it at all costs, and even try to shame them for being “at fault.” Instead, try to view conflict as an opportunity to analyze the situation objectively, assess the needs of both parties and come up with a solution that helps you both.
Trying to “Win” the Argument
I love it when Dr. Phil says that if people are focused on “winning” the argument, the relationship loses! The point of a relationship discussion should be mutual understanding and coming to an agreement or resolution that respects everyone’s needs. If you’re making a case for how wrong the other person is, discounting their feelings, and staying stuck in your point of view, you’re focused in the wrong direction!
Making Character Attacks
Sometimes people take any negative action from a partner and blow it up into a personality flaw. (For example, if a husband leaves his socks lying around, looking it as a character flaw and label him “inconsiderate and lazy,” or, if a woman wants to discuss a problem with the relationship, labeling her “needy,” “controlling,” or “too demanding.”) This creates negative perceptions on both sides. Remember to respect the person, even if you don’t like the behavior.
When one partner wants to discuss troubling issues in the relationship, sometimes people defensively stonewall, or refuse to talk or listen to their partner. This shows disrespect and, in certain situations, even contempt, while at the same time letting the underlying conflict grow. Stonewalling solves nothing but creates hard feelings and damages relationships. It’s much better to listen and discuss things in a respectful manner.
Conflict wreaks havoc on our brains. We are groomed by evolution to protect ourselves whenever we sense a threat. In our modern context, we don’t fight like a badger with a coyote, or run away like a rabbit from a fox. But our basic impulse to protect ourselves is automatic and unconscious.
We have two amygdala, one on each side of the brain, behind the eyes and the optical nerves. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, in his book The Body Keeps the Score,calls this the brain’s “smoke detector.” It’s responsible for detecting fear and preparing our body for an emergency response.
When we perceive a threat, the amygdala sounds an alarm, releasing a cascade of chemicals in the body. Stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol flood our system, immediately preparing us for fight or flight. When this deeply instinctive function takes over, we call it what Daniel Goleman coined in Emotional Intelligence as “amygdala hijack.” In common psychological parlance we say, “We’ve been triggered.” We notice immediate changes like an increased heart rate or sweaty palms. Our breathing becomes more shallow and rapid as we take in more oxygen, preparing to bolt if we have to.
The flood of stress hormones create other sensations like a quivering in our solar plexus, limbs, or our voice. We may notice heat flush our face, our throat constrict, or the back of our neck tighten and jaw set. We are in the grip of a highly efficient, but prehistoric set of physiological responses. These sensations are not exactly pleasant — they’re not meant for relaxation. They’re designed to move us to action.
The active amygdala also immediately shuts down the neural pathway to our prefrontal cortex so we can become disoriented in a heated conversation. Complex decision-making disappears, as does our access to multiple perspectives. As our attention narrows, we find ourselves trapped in the one perspective that makes us feel the most safe: “I’m right and you’re wrong,” even though we ordinarily see more perspectives.
And if that wasn’t enough, our memory becomes untrustworthy. Have you ever been in a fight with your partner or friend, and you literally can’t remember a positive thing about them? It’s as though the brain drops the memory function altogether in an effort to survive the threat. When our memory is compromised like this, we can’t recall something from the past that might help us calm down. In fact, we can’t remember much of anything. Instead, we’re simply filled with the flashing red light of the amygdala indicating “Danger, react. Danger, protect. Danger, attack.”
In the throes of amygdala hijack, we can’t choose how we want to react because the old protective mechanism in the nervous system does it for us — even before we glimpse that there could be a choice. It is ridiculous.
Practicing Mindfulness in Conflict
Mindfulness is the perfect awareness technique to employ when a conflict arises — whether it’s at work or home. It allows us to override the conditioned nervous system with conscious awareness. Instead of attacking or recoiling, and later justifying our reactions, we can learn to stay present, participate in regulating our own nervous system, and eventually, develop new, more free and helpful ways of interacting.
Practicing mindfulness in the middle of a conflict demands a willingness to stay present, to feel intensely, to override our negative thoughts, and to engage our breath to maintain presence with the body. Like any skill, it takes practice.
There are different approaches to working with a provoked nervous system and intense emotions, but they all have some elements in common. Here are four simple steps (which I also describe in my book, Everything is Workable) that I try to use when I find myself with an overloaded nervous system and a body racing with a fight or flight impulse.
Step 1: Stay present.
The first step in practicing mindfulness when triggered is to notice we are provoked. We may notice a change in our tone of voice, gripping sensations in the belly, or a sudden desire to withdraw. Each of us has particular bodily and behavioral cues that alert us to the reality that we feel threatened, and are therefore running on automatic pilot.
We have to decide to stay put and present, to be curious and explore our experience. For me, it helps to remind myself to relax. I have a visual cue that I use that involves my son. When I’m worked up, he has the habit of looking at me, raising and lowering his hands in a calming fashion, and saying “Easy Windmill.” I try to reflect on this and it helps me calm down because he’s so charming when he does it.
Step 2: Let go of the story.
This might be the most difficult part of the practice. We need to completely let go of the thinking and judging mind. This is a very challenging step because when we feel threatened, the mind immediately fills with all kinds of difficult thoughts and stories about what’s happening. But we must be willing to forget the story, just for a minute, because there is a feedback loop between our thoughts and our body. If the negative thoughts persist, so do the stressful hormones. It isn’t that we’re wrong, but we will be more far more clear in our perceptions when the nervous system has relaxed.
Step 3: Focus on the body.
Now simply focus on feeling and exploring whatever sensations arise in the body. We feel them naturally, just as they are, not trying to control or change them. We allow the mind to be as open as possible, noticing the different places in the body where sensations occur, what is tight, shaky, rushing, or hurts. We pay attention to the different qualities and textures of the sensations, and the way things change and shift. We can also notice how biased we are against unpleasant or more intense sensations.
Step 4: Finally, breathe.
Everybody knows that it helps to breathe. There are many different qualities of the breath, but we only need to learn about two: Rhythm and smoothness. As Alan Watkins explains in his book Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership, if we focus on these two dimensions, even for a few short minutes, the production of the cortisol and adrenaline will stop.
To breath rhythmically means that the in-breath and out-breath occur repeatedly at the same intervals. So if we inhale, counting 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then exhale, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6, then inhale again, counting 1, 2, 3, and 4, and then exhale again, counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6; this establishes rhythm.
At the same time, we should invite the breath to be even or smooth, meaning that the volume of the breath stays consistent as it moves in and out, like sipping liquid through a narrow straw. If we manage those two qualities for just a few minutes, the breath assists us in remaining present, making it possible to stay with intense sensation in the body.
Paying attention to our body re-establishes equilibrium faster, restoring our ability to think, to listen, and relate. This takes practice, but eventually, we retrain ourselves to respond rather than to react. Anger becomes clarity and resolve, sadness leads to compassion, jealousy becomes fuel for change.
There will also be certain moments when we fail. Becoming more intimate with our body’s response to a hijacked nervous system is challenging, to say the least. This is because the sensations are very uncomfortable, our emotions are volatile, and our mind is usually filling with unsupportive thoughts like “Get me outta here,” or “How can they be saying that?” or “This is a waste of my time.”
Each time we succeed in being mindful of our body in moments of distress, we develop our capacity. Even more, we may observe something new when it occurs. A moment of pause, an unexpected question when it appears or a laugh that erupts. When anything new happens, taking note of it helps to free us of the pattern to our old way of doing things. Before we know it, our old habit of fight or flight is changing, and the world is a safer place.
“Thought changes structure … I saw people rewire their brains with their thoughts, to cure previously incurable obsessions and trauma.” ~ Norman Doidge, Canadian-born psychiatrist and author of The Brain That Changes Itself
The human brain is remarkably malleable. It can be shaped very much like a ball of Play-Doh, albeit with a bit more time and effort.
Within the last 20 years, thanks to rapid development in the spheres of brain imaging and neuroscience, we can now say for certain that the brain is capable of re-engineering – and that we are the engineers.
In many ways, neuroplasticity – an umbrella term describing lasting change to the brain throughout a person’s life – is a wonderful thing.
Here are a few reasons why:
– We can increase our intelligence (“I.Q.”)
– We can learn new, life-changing skills.
– We can recover from certain types of brain damage.
– We can become more emotionally intelligent.
– We can “unlearn” harmful behaviors, beliefs, and habits.
On the other side of the coin, we can redesign our brain for the worse!
Fortunately, thanks to our ability to unlearn harmful behaviors, beliefs, and habits, we can right the ship again!
BELIEFS CHANGE THE BRAIN
Donald Hebb, an early pioneer of neuroplasticity and neuropsychology, famously said:
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Dr. Michael Merzenich, now recognized as perhaps the world’s most renowned neuroscientist, built on Hebb’s work, proving the relationship between our thoughts (“neurons that fire”) and structural changes in the brain (“wire together.”)
Among Dr. Merzenich’s numerous discoveries, this one may be the most important:
Your experiences, behaviors, thinking, habits, thought patterns, and ways of reacting to world are inseparable from how your brain wires itself.
Negative habits change your brain for the worse. Positive habits change your brain for the better.
Neuroplasticity and Illness
Consider this quote by Alex Korb, Ph.D., and author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time:
“In depression, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the brain. It’s simply that the particular tuning of neural circuits creates the tendency toward a pattern of depression. It has to do with the way the brain deals with stress, planning, habits, decision making and a dozen other things — the dynamic interaction of all those circuits. And once a pattern starts to form, it causes dozens of tiny changes throughout the brain that create a downward spiral.”
Neuroplasticity can be both the problem and the solution.
COMPLAINING AND BRAIN CHANGES
We’re going to get a bit more specific now, discussing the effects of negative behaviors – specifically, complaining – and how these behaviors alter the brain’s structure.
We all know that one person who is continually negative. The person who never seems to be satisfied with anything or anyone.
Negative people are almost always complainers, without fail. Worse, complainers are not satisfied in keeping their thoughts and feelings to themselves; instead, they’ll seek out some unwilling participant and vent.
Undoubtedly annoying to their friends and family, these “Debbie Downers” aren’t to be chastised but understood.
You see, we all complain from time-to-time. In fact, researchers from Clemson University empirically demonstrated that everyone grumbles on occasion. Some just do so much more often than others.
Complainers generally fall into one of three groups:
Attention-seeking Complainers: People who seek attention through complaining; always dwelling on about how they’ve got it worse than everyone else. Ironically, (rational) people are apt to ignore outright the person rather than waste mental energy focusing on their negativity.
Chronic Complainers: These folks live in a constant state of complaint. If they’re not voicing about their “woe is me” attitude, they’re probably thinking about it.
Psychologists term this compulsory behavior rumination, defined as “repetitively going over a thought or a problem without completion.” Rumination is, unfortunately, directly relayed to the depressed and anxious brain.
Low-E.Q. Complainers: ‘E.Q.’ is short for emotional quotient, and constituents within this group are short on E.Q. What I.Q. is to intelligence, E.Q. is to emotional understanding.
These people aren’t interested in your perspective, thoughts, or feelings. You’re a sounding board – a brick wall. As such, they’ll dwell and vent at every opportunity.
Is the Brain to Blame?
The answer is (mostly) “Yes.”
You see, most negative people don’t want to feel this way. Who the hell would?
Harmful behaviors such as complaining, if allowed to loop within the brain continually, will inevitably alter thought processes. Altered thoughts lead to altered beliefs which leads to a change in behavior.
Our brain possesses a something called the negativity bias. In simple terms, negativity bias is the brain’s tendency to focus more on negative circumstances than positive.
Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuroscientist and author of Buddha’s Brain, explains negativity bias:
“Negative stimuli produce more neural activity than do equally intensive positive ones. They are also perceived more easily and quickly.”
Repetition is the mother of all learning. When we repeatedly focus on the negative by complaining, we’re firing and re-firing the neurons responsible for the negativity bias.
We’re creating our negative behavior through repetition.
It’s not possible to be “happy-go-lucky” all of the time – and we needn’t try.
We should, however, take concrete steps to counteract negative thinking.
Research has repeatedly shown that meditation and mindfulness are perhaps the most powerful tools for combating negativity.
Positive psychology researcher, Barbara Fredrickson, and her colleagues at the University of North Carolina, showed that people who meditate daily display more positive emotions than those who do not.
Following a three month experiment, Fredrickson’s team noted that “people who meditated daily continued to display increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, and decreased illness symptoms.”
After learning the basics of meditation, which involves focus on the breath, create a daily meditation schedule that works for you.
15-20 minutes of daily meditation may just make a huge difference in your life – and your brain!
For boards of directors of community organizations, there are typically four arenas in which conflict manifests itself.
Conflict among board members
Conflict on the board itself arises as a result of differences between individual directors or factions of directors. Camaraderie and friendship is often important for volunteer directors and if the board is not fun at some level, in the face of significant conflict, board members may drift away or resign. Frequently the chair of the board is the source of the conflict, often by virtue of “running the show” or dominating board discussions, or else he/she is guilty of doing nothing to facilitate resolution. Marion Peters Angelica points out that the chair and chief executive (Executive Director) must play a role in resolving board conflict but that the latter is in a very awkward position to do so without appearing to take sides or be manipulating the situation. Beyond providing factual information or providing process advice, the Executive Director is wise to let the board chair, or other board members take responsibility for resolving the conflict.
Conflict between Board and Staff
Conflict between the board and staff, especially between the board and the Executive Director is common. Often it is a conflict of a structural nature: the boundaries of each other’s roles and responsibilities, where power is shared.
Conflict among Staff Members
Boards frequently get drawn into conflicts among staff or volunteers. While the Board might take a role as a result of their own initiative, more often than not the Board will find themselves involved because an individual director or a staff person has done an “end run” around the Executive Director. In situations where a conflict is between a staff person and the Executive Director, the board may need to get involved either to mediate or arbitrate. Boards are increasingly concerned about the legal and/or reputation threats a conflict may have on the organization. Where there is an Executive Director and the conflict is between other staff (or between volunteers), a board would be wise to stay clear, especially if it wants to be seen as affirming the ED’s authority and responsibility. Boards get drawn into staff conflicts because they are often seen as the real authority. A board with a tendency to micro-manage will be drawn into more staff conflicts than a board that sees its role as an arbitrator of last resort. Boards can make staff conflict situations worse, especially when individual directors, or even the chair, take it upon themselves to intervene.
Conflict between the organization and its members or stakeholders
Sometimes the legitimacy of the board and staff will be challenged by the members or groups that are part of the organization’s constituency. Factions amongst the membership can arise whenever a few people become unhappy with how things are being run and believe they or others can do a better job. Directors who show disregard for the organization’s by-laws or constitution open themselves up to an uprising. In such a situation a board is ripe for a “coup”, often involving a raucous Annual General Meeting. Organizations with representative boards are susceptible to these kinds of conflicts because the membership is often already somewhat organized.
How to Manage Better With Conflict
Unfortunately, the media and entertainment industry provide us few examples of well-managed conflict. However, there are ways to channel our inevitable differences into constructive action. Here are some ideas, not in any particular order, for non–profit organizations that want to manage conflict more effectively.
Clarify roles and responsibilities
Boards must strive to clarify the roles and responsibilities of individual directors and officers (especially the chairperson) and the board’s role in relation to staff. An annual board orientation session is a logical place for such a discussion. Job descriptions outlining duties and responsibilities are seldom adequate for clarifying roles, especially where board and staff responsibilities overlap such as in determining and working on strategic objectives.
Seek or develop a skilled board chairperson
An effective board chair is critical to managing conflict. Such effectiveness comes from clarity about the chair’s role, personal integrity, an understanding of the importance of process and the liberal use of a few proven facilitation techniques.
Encourage job evaluation
Formal evaluation processes for the board, executive director and staff members are important mechanisms for direct communication and action that can improve working relationships. Boards should evaluate themselves (with the Executive Director having an opportunity to provide his/her own assessment of the relationship) and should regularly evaluate the Executive Director according to pre-determined criteria. Regular evaluation of staff, by the executive director, if constructively handled, will help avoid staff conflicts.
Implement a grievance procedure
Whether unionized or not, voluntary organizations that employ staff or regularly utilize volunteers should have a written grievance or complaint procedure that is known to everyone. Such a procedure will outline the steps and decision makers involved in resolving a dispute. Normally such a procedure will include both informal (verbal) and formal (written) steps and time frames. In most cases, such a procedure will designate the Board of Directors as the final decision-maker.
Establish a code of conduct for directors
Non-profit organizations ought to have a written code of conduct for directors that set some standards and rules for their relationship with one another, with the Executive Director and with staff. A code of conduct ought to give direction on issues such as confidentiality, conflicts of interests, interactions with staff and speaking with “one voice”.
Deal with conflict openly when it arises
As uncomfortable as it often is, and as much as we hope that it will go away if we ignore it, it is important to acknowledge conflict directly when it occurs. Boards need to talk about what to do when they have differences. What is necessary for the boardroom to be a safe place to raise difficult issues?
Discuss good interpersonal communications practices
Boards should make time, possibly at orientation, to reflect on, research, and discuss good communication practices. On an individual level, this includes balancing “inquiry” and “advocacy”, checking our assumptions, being aware of own filters and separating impact from intent. Directors can be more effective if each person put into practice the principle that they should ‘seek first to understand, and then to be understood.’ Starting a “difficult conversation” by describing what happened rather than our interpretation of what happened can help prevent people from becoming defensive.
Frame conflict as an exercise in “win-win” negotiation
It can often be helpful when there are different views on what should happen, to discuss the resolution of a conflict as a negotiation. In this frame, people can be asked to set their positions aside, assert their views, seek to understand those of others, work with underlying interests (common and different), and look for solutions that meet everyone’s interests.
Celebrate agreements and new understandings
Both boards and staff can do more to acknowledge the hard work that is involved in expressing and working through important issues. We can all show genuine appreciation for openness and risk-taking, “Pats on the back” are often welcome. A bottle of champagne, a case of beer or a team dinner can be useful ways of drawing attention to success in managing conflict.
Look to gender and cultural differences as a way out of a mess
It is well known that men and women, and people of different cultures, bring different perspectives and skills to managing conflict. If a conflict suffers from cultural intransigence, boards should look inward or outward for some alternative approaches.
Seek outside help early
A third party is often very valuable in helping to resolving conflict. This can be a professional or a trusted friend outside of the organization. The integrity and skills of the person should always take precedence over their position; even a representative of a funder, if they are the right person, could facilitate a resolution. The board should be clear if it wants the resolution mediated with the help of a facilitator (a negotiated resolution) or someone else to hear the arguments on all sides and decides (an arbitrated settlement).
Article originally posted at https://hbr.org/2018/10/stop-complaining-about-your-colleagues-behind-their-backs and written by Deborah Grayson Riegel.
In my coaching work with leaders and teams, I often ask my clients whether they engage in workplace gossip. More often than not, they respond, “of course not!” with a look on their faces that indicates that they are insulted to have been asked such a question.
But when I ask them whether they have ever participated in a “confirmation expedition” — whereby they 1) ask a colleague to confirm their own negative or challenging experience with a third colleague who is not present, or 2) welcome a similar line of confirmation inquiry from another colleague about a third colleague who is not present, most admit that this is, in fact, a regular part of their daily work life.
While leaders and teams might consider this behavior to be innocent “blowing off steam” or the more strategic “confirming performance data,” I consider it a form of workplace gossip.
But it’s not just me. Authors Nancy Kurland and Lisa Hope Pelled, in their research paper, Passing the Word: Toward a Model of Gossip and Power in the Workplace, define gossip as: “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present.” When you think about how often your workplace conversations are 1) informal (“I’m just hanging out in Linda’s office”); 2) evaluative (“discussing how difficult it is to get a timely response from Doug in Accounting”); 3) among no more than a few individuals (“…and Marci’s here too.”); and 4) about another member of that organization who is not present (“Doug’s at his desk, of course!”), you might start to realize how often you’re engaging in gossip, and contributing to gossip’s damaging effects.
Like what? Like the erosion of trust, hurt feelings, decreased morale, damaged reputations, reduced personal and professional credibility, increased anxiety, divisiveness, and attrition.
Despite the high costs of gossip, the drive to engage in it is strong. Dr. Peggy Drexler, research psychologist and professor of psychology at Cornell University’s Weill Medical College writes that “anthropologists say that throughout human history, gossip has been a way to bond with others — even a tool to isolate those who aren’t supporting the group.”
Talking with one or more coworkers about how hard it is to get Doug in Accounting to give a timely response creates a feeling of connection with everyone else who is struggling with Doug’s lack of responsiveness. Those similarly frustrated by Doug treat one another with in-group favoritism, a common and central aspect of human behavior, whereby people act more pro-socially towards members of their own group relative to those outside their group.
Gossip is also a means of venting for those who are reluctant to give direct feedback to or have difficult conversations with their colleagues. As I cited in my HBR article, When to Skip a Difficult Conversation, “In a 2013 Globis survey of more than 200 professionals on the topic of difficult conversations…80% of respondents reported that these conversations were a part of their job, [but] more than half indicated that they didn’t feel like they had adequate training on how to conduct them effectively.”
By talking to anyone, everyone, or even one person about another colleague who isn’t there to hear the feedback, provide his or her perspective, and engage in joint problem solving, you are undermining the benefits of an open, honest relationship and a feedback-rich culture.
Finally, we use gossip as a way to collect evidence that confirms our beliefs, satisfying our confirmation bias — the tendency to look for information that confirms what we already believe to be true. By checking in with a coworker about whether she, too, experiences Doug as slow to respond, we get confirmation for our existing beliefs, and the satisfaction that comes from “being right” about Doug. And as Judith Glaser explains in her article, Your Brain Is Hooked on Being Right, the flood of adrenaline and dopamine that accompanies feeling right can become downright addictive.
Considering how satisfying it is to be right, how tempted we are to avoid giving direct feedback and having difficult conversations, and how often we seek confirmation for what we already believe, it can be hard to break the habit of engaging in gossip — as the instigator or the recipient. Nevertheless, there are several strategies to help you and your team stop engaging in something so wrong that feels so right:
1) Name it, then pivot. First, call gossip “gossip” to stop it in its tracks. If you are engaging in “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present,” — especially if the aim is to confirm your experience rather than get constructive solutions — then you are participating in gossip. If you call someone on it, most people will step back at hearing a colleague say, “This sounds like gossip. Is that what you intended?” Second, pivot the conversation by asking, “How can I help you get a better outcome?” Only engage in coaching, brainstorming, and problem-solving conversations — not in problem-confirming ones.
2) Ask yourself or others why you need someone else’s confirmation about a behavior that you’re noticing in a third person. If it’s to justify your feelings, to confirm that you’re right, or to gain support for your point of view, don’t bring someone else into the conversation. If it’s to understand how you might be contributing to the dynamic or problem, to brainstorm helpful solutions, or to go on record to make a formal complaint for further investigation, then go for it.
3) Let people know that you have a policy of “if you have a problem with me, please tell me first.” Adopt the “tell them first” policy with your colleagues, and, when someone approaches you with gossip about someone else, ask “Have you already told her?” to remind them of this policy.
4) Create a feedback-rich environment around you. The more you normalize feedback — both positive and negative, and both giving and receiving — the less likely people will be to look for alternative means to express their frustrations and concerns. Rather than “saving” feedback for annual performance reviews, make discussions about what someone did well, and what he or she could do differently, a part of every supervision meeting or project debrief. And make sure to give people positive feedback when they offer particularly useful feedback — even if it’s hard to hear.
Gossip, even by any other name, is still a destructive communication strategy that negatively impacts individuals, teams and the whole organization. By stopping it in its tracks, choosing healthier and more helpful methods of communicating what’s not working, and engaging in collaborative problem-solving, relationships and organizations can flourish.
Article originally posted at https://hbr.org/2019/01/4-things-to-do-before-a-tough-conversation and written by Joseph Grenny.
I was in denial for about a year and a half before I admitted that I needed to fire Randy.
His work performance had made the conclusion inescapable for years, but he was so darned nice and likeable that I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Not only did I like him, I also knew his income was crucial to his family. Furthermore, over the nine years he worked for me, his income had grown to the point that he would find it difficult to get comparable compensation. I hated the thought of the hardship that letting him go might cause. And yet Randy (which is not his real name) had shown himself to be entirely incompetent at managing people and projects. He completed projects based on whoever was nagging him the most not on the importance to the business of the commitments he’d made. You knew he would agree to anything, but you never knew if you’d actually get it. His team was in a constant state of whiplash as his panicked phone calls would often reset their entire agenda.
Eighteen months earlier, I had communicated the serious nature of this chronic pattern. I was certain he could make the changes he agreed to. In subsequent months I fooled myself into believing his random successes demonstrated a pattern of improvement. But after such a long time — and a perfectly harmonized chorus of complaints from his coworkers — I could no longer elude my responsibility. Randy had to go.
I lived in dread of our Friday 2:00 PM appointment until the moment it arrived.
My colleagues and I have spent 30 years studying best practices for dealing with just this kind of moment of emotional or political risk. We’ve learned that how we deal with these kinds of crucial conversations predicts the magnitude of our influence, the health of our teams, the consistency of innovation, the strength of customer relationships, and even the durability of marriages and friendship. We’ve spent many thousands of hours observing how people manage these moments, and our recurring observation is that, unfortunately, when it matters most, we do our worst. We cower or coerce, obfuscate or exaggerate, contend or defend.
It’s no surprise that books on these topics (like ours) fly off the shelves. We all crave tactical advice about mastering the verbal ordeal. How should I compose my opening sentence? How do I present my concerns? How can I be sure the other person is forthcoming? How do I stay focused and get to a solution?
While these are all valid questions, our research shows the primary predictor of your success in a crucial conversation has less to do with how you use your mouth, and much more to do with what you do before you open it. What I did Friday at 1:30 PM mattered more than what happened at 2:00 PM.
Here are the four things you must do to prepare. If you do them well, the odds your conversation will go well improve dramatically.
Get your motives right. Under conditions of stress and threat, our motives become short-term and selfish. We worry about whether others will like us, whether we’ll look good, be right, win, or avoid conflict. For 18 months, my motive with Randy had been to keep the peace. I wanted to smooth things over and make it all better. The problem with short-term motives is that they preserve the present by mortgaging the future. By avoiding conflict with Randy, I compromised his ability to save his job; I hurt our customers; I frustrated his teammates — and even risked losing some of them. But under conditions of stress and threat, I think escape, not long-term. Each time Randy would violate a commitment, my chest would tighten and I would think, “How do I patch this?” rather than “What’s the real problem?”
The first thing to do when preparing for a crucial conversation is to reset your motives. You can radically change your motives by thoughtfully answering a simple question: What do I really want? I find it helpful to answer it at four levels: What do I really want for me? For the other person? For the relationship? For other stakeholders?
Something potent happened as I meditated on these questions that Friday morning. A sense of focus, determination, and calm came as I connected with my real desires: to be a caring and ethical manager; to help Randy get a job where he could win; to ensure Randy knew I cared about him and his family; and to provide his team and customers with the support they deserved. Simply connecting to these motives changed my affect as I approached the conversation.
Get your emotions right. Unhelpful emotions are another second barrier to a productive conversation. We often come in angry, scared, hurt, or defensive. Surprisingly, our emotions have less to do with what the other person is doing, and more to do with the story we tell ourselves about what they are doing.
For example, prior to dismissing someone, managers will often tell themselves victim and villain stories. Their victim story helps them absolve themselves of responsibility for the problem at hand (“I did everything I possibly could for Randy. I have been patient, supportive and kind. There’s nothing more I could have done! He did this to himself!”) A victim story makes us out to be innocent sufferers in the predicament.
A villain story helps us justify any negative action we take toward the other by attributing evil or malicious motives to them. We make the other person out to be deserving of suffering. (“I can’t believe Randy hasn’t fixed this. He has been lazy, unmotivated, and entitled. He had every opportunity but didn’t care enough to address the crystal-clear feedback I gave him!”).
Recognize and challenge the stories you tell yourself. Turn yourself from a victim to an actor. Turn the other person from a villain to a human. Ask yourself, “What am I pretending not to know about my role in this?” and “Why would a reasonable, rational, and decent person do what he’s doing?”
As I asked these questions, I could see many ways I had minimized my feedback and enabled Randy. I could see that he had made valid efforts to change, but that the position did not play to his strengths. This was a good man in a wrong role. I felt a sense of respect and resolve rather than detachment and indignation.
Gather the facts. By definition, we enter a crucial conversation with opposing views. For example, Randy is likely to come to this conversation believing he is making reasonable progress and deserves continued employment. I don’t. Often, the conversation degenerates into contesting conclusions rather than shared information. I say what I think. You say what you think. Rinse and repeat.
Don’t start a crucial conversation by sharing your conclusion. Share the facts and premises that led you to your conclusion. Lay out your data. Explain the logic you used to arrive where you did. Gathering the facts is required homework for a healthy conversation. If I think, “Randy is entirely incapable of managing people or projects,” I owe it to him to build my case in a patient, honest, and vulnerable way. And I need to be willing to let him challenge my case as well, which leads to the fourth step.
Get curious. The most important attitude to bring to a crucial conversation is a blend of confidence and curiosity. I need to have thought through my position enough to have confidence that it has merit. And I need to muster enough humility to be interested in any facts or logic that might improve my conclusion. Many people resist curiosity because they think it weakens them. In fact, it does the opposite. It makes you more persuasive. As Dean Rusk once said, “The best way to persuade others is with your ears, by listening.” When you listen deeply and sincerely, others feel less of a need to resist you in order to be heard.
As I walked into the room to meet with Randy, I felt confident of the decision I needed to share, but open to information that might persuade me otherwise. I felt a mix of compassion and determination. I was ready to share the basis from which my decision had been made. I wasn’t happy. But I felt peaceful.
I wish I could say that everything turned out great. Randy had a tough time finding his next job. My colleagues and I rallied around him frequently in his search. Even though implementing the decision was painful, Randy supported it within minutes of our meeting. He said, “The past six months have been stressful. I have been drowning and can see I’m not cut out for this.” When we finished our conversation, we hugged, something we have done periodically in subsequent years of our friendship.
Going into a tough conversation, it’s understandable to be worried about what you’re going to say. But it’s important to focus first on your motives, assumptions, and thoughts. Crucial conversations are 60% getting your head, heart, and gut right, and 40% saying it right.our motives, assumptions, and thoughts. Crucial conversations are 60% getting your head, heart, and gut right, and 40% saying it right.
Article originally posted at https://hbr.org/2018/10/working-with-people-who-arent-self-aware and written by Tasha Eurich.
Even though self-awareness — knowing who we are and how we’re seen — is important for job performance, career success, and leadership effectiveness, it’s in remarkably short supply in today’s workplace. In our nearly five-year research program on the subject, we’ve discovered that although 95% of people think they’re self-aware, only 10 to 15% actually are.
At the office, we don’t have to look far to find unaware colleagues — people who, despite past successes, solid qualifications, or irrefutable intelligence, display a complete lack of insight into how they are coming across. In a survey we conducted with 467 working adults in the U.S. across several industries, 99% reported working with at least one such person, and nearly half worked with at least four. Peers were the most frequent offenders (with 73% of respondents reporting at least one unaware peer), followed by direct reports (33%), bosses (32%), and clients (16%).
Un-self-aware colleagues aren’t just frustrating; they can cut a team’s chances of success in half. According to our research, other consequences of working with unaware colleagues include increased stress, decreased motivation, and a greater likelihood of leaving one’s job.
So how do we deal with these situations? Is it possible to help the unaware see themselves more clearly? And if we can’t, what can we do to minimize their damage on our success and happiness?
Understanding the problem
Not all badly-behaving colleagues suffer from a lack of self-awareness, and not all who do can be helped. Therefore, you must first determine whether the source of the problem is truly someone’s lack of self-awareness. Ask yourself:
What’s behind the tension?
When we’re having trouble working with someone, the problem isn’t always a lack of self-awareness on their part. Interpersonal conflict can arise from different priorities, incompatible communication styles, or a lack of trust.
To determine whether you’re truly dealing with an un-self-aware person, consider how others around them feel. Typically, if someone is unaware, there’s a consensus about their behavior (i.e., it won’t just be you). More specifically, we’ve found several consistent behaviors of un-self-aware individuals:
They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
They have difficulty “reading a room” and tailoring their message to their audience.
They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.
Where is this person coming from?
In contrast to the unaware, certain difficult colleagues—like office jerks—know exactly what they’re doing, but aren’t willing to change.
I once knew a chief operating officer with a reputation for humiliating his team whenever they disappointed him. When finally confronted about his behavior, his response was, “The best management tool is fear. If they fear you, they will get the work done.” (Unsurprisingly, his superiors did not share his views and fired him several months later).
The biggest difference between the unaware and the Aware-Don’t-Care are their intentions: the unaware genuinely want to be collaborative and effective, but don’t know they’re falling short. Whereas the Aware-Don’t-Care unapologetically acknowledge their behavior (“Of course I’m pushy with clients. It’s the only way to make the sale!”), the unaware can’t see how they’re showing up (“That client meeting went well!”).
Helping the unaware
Once you’ve determined someone suffers from a lack of self-awareness, it’s time to honestly assess whether they can be helped. Think about their intentions and whether they’d want to change. Have you seen them ask for a different perspective or welcome critical feedback? This suggests that it’s possible to help them become more self-aware.
But the odds can be steep. Our survey found that although 70% of people with unaware colleagues have tried to help them improve, only 31% were successful or very successful. And among those who decided not to help, only 21% said they regretted their decision. So before you step in, ask yourself:
Am I the right messenger?
The number one reason our survey respondents gave for not helping an unaware person was that they didn’t think they were the right messenger. It’s true that when helping the unaware, providing good, constructive feedback only gets us part of the way. For someone to truly be open to critical feedback, they must trust us — they must fundamentally believe that we have their best interests at heart. When trust is present, the other person will feel more comfortable being vulnerable, a prerequisite to accept one’s unaware behavior.
So think about the relationship you have with your unaware colleague: have you gone out of your way to help or support them in the past? And are you confident they will see your feedback for what it is—a show of support to help them get better—rather than inferring a more nefarious motive? Or, are there others who might be better suited to deliver the feedback than you?
Am I willing to accept the worst-case scenario?
The second most common reason people decide not to help the unaware is that the risk is simply too high. As one of our study participants noted, “I may not be able to help and trying [might] just make them angry.” The consequences of help-gone-awry can range from uncomfortable (tears, the silent treatment, yelling) to career limiting (an employee might quit; a colleague may try to sabotage us; a boss could fire us).
Here, power differentials are a factor. For example, though unaware bosses have an especially detrimental impact on their employees’ job satisfaction, performance, and well-being, confronting one’s boss is inherently riskier because of the positional power she holds. Conversely, the risk is usually lower with peers, and lower still with direct reports (in fact, if you have an unaware employee, it is literally your job to help them). But regardless of their place on the organizational chart, we must be ready to accept the worst-case scenario should it occur.
If you believe you can help, then what’s the best way to do so? There are certainly many helpful resources on providing high-quality feedback, and most apply with the unaware. There are, however, three practices worth underscoring for these individuals.
First, talk to them in person (our research suggests those who provide feedback via email are 33% less successful). Second, instead of bringing up their behavior out of the blue, practice strategic patience. If possible, wait until your colleague expresses feelings of frustration or dissatisfaction that (unbeknownst to them) are being caused by their unawareness. Ask if you can offer an observation in the spirit of their success and wellbeing (using the word “feedback” risks defensiveness). Third, if they agree, focus on their specific, observable behavior and how it’s limiting their success. End the conversation by reaffirming your support and asking how you can help.
What to do if they don’t change
It’s easy to feel hopeless when you can’t help someone who is unaware. The good news is that although we can’t force insight on them, we can minimize their impact on us.
Mindfully reframe their behavior: The popular workplace practice of mindfulness can be an effective tool for dealing with the unaware. Specifically, noticing what we’re feeling in a given moment allows us to reframe the situation and be more resilient.
Here is one tool to notice but not get drawn in to our negative reactions to the unaware. I first came up with the “laugh track” when I had the misfortune of working for an Aware-Don’t-Care boss. One day, after a particularly unpleasant encounter, I recalled my favorite TV show growing up, The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary’s boss was a surly man named Lou Grant. On a good day, Lou was grumpy; on a bad day, he was downright abusive. But because his comments were followed by a canned laugh track, they became surprisingly endearing. I decided that the next time my boss said something horrible, I’d imagine a laugh track behind it instead. I was frequently surprised at how much less hurtful (and occasionally hilarious) this tool rendered him.
Find their humanity: As easy as it can be to forget, even the most unaware among us are still human. If we remember this, instead of flying off the handle when they’re behaving badly, we can recognize that, at the core, their unaware behavior is a sign that they are struggling. We can adopt the mindset of compassion without judgment.
Researchers have found that honing our compassion skills helps us remain calm in the face of difficult people and situations. As management professor Hooria Jazaieri points out, “there are [negative] consequences…when we are…thinking bad thoughts about someone” — compassion “allows us to let them go.”
Play the long game: When it comes to dealing with the unaware, one of the most important things to remember is that just because they’re that way now doesn’t mean they won’t change in the future. Unaware behaviors sometimes have to be pointed out multiple times before the feedback begins to stick — or, as one of our research participants noted, “Sometimes they have to bump their head enough times to finally see the light.”
In our research, we’ve studied people who made dramatic, transformational improvements in their self-awareness. Though it takes courage, commitment, and humility, it is indeed possible—and whether or not the people around us choose to improve their self-awareness, we have complete control over the choice to improve ours (find a quick, high-level assessment of your self-awareness here). At the end of the day, perhaps that’s where our energy is best spent.
Article originally posted at https://hbr.org/2019/04/how-to-take-criticism-well and written by Sabina Nawaz.
Many years ago, I had the opportunity to run an organization. I was excited about the possibilities ahead of us and the goals we could realize. However, instead of receiving unanimous enthusiasm for what I thought was an exciting vision, some team members found fault with my ideas and judged me personally. They said my agenda was too ambitious and self-serving. Some thought I wasn’t listening to what my constituents wanted.
Even though three-quarters of the team supported my vision, I fixated on the quarter that did not. I knew I was generally well-liked because I spent a large portion of my time and energy on pleasing others. The thought that some people didn’t like me felt like a punch in the gut. I lost sleep, couldn’t concentrate, and lost five pounds in one week (not how I wanted to lose those pounds). I started to consider how I could give in to what the naysayers wanted, even though it wasn’t the right thing for the organization.
Eventually, after a lot of hard work, I figured out how to be resilient when being criticized. This enabled me to stand my ground and take actions that benefited the organization, not just my self-worth. Here are the lessons I learned from that experience:
Be prepared; don’t freeze. Criticism is inevitable, especially if we invite diverse perspectives and boldly lay out a big vision. Unfortunately, our response to the disapproval of others may not be entirely within our control. Feeling “attacked” may trigger an involuntary fight-flight-or-freeze response in the amygdala. We may capitulate, cry, or lash out — actions we’ll probably regret later. We’ll probably also think of the perfect response but only after the fact. Instead of being caught off guard, prepare a list of three to five ways to respond to critics in the moment. Have these responses handy on your phone or a sticky note in case your brain draws a blank. For example, you might paraphrase what you heard to ensure you correctly understood what was said and demonstrate to the other person that you’re listening. Or you could say something like, “This is a new perspective. I appreciate your willingness to share a different point of view. I’d like to give this genuine consideration and get back to you.”
Calibrate; don’t catastrophize. If it’s very important to you that people like you and your ideas, you may be particularly sensitive to any form of censure. But try to keep things in perspective. For example, in a meeting, small gestures from the team such as throat clearing or focusing on a phone during your presentation may be the result of an allergy or distraction not negativity toward your ideas. Instead of jumping to conclusions, ask what’s going on. You might say, “I notice you’re frowning. Is it related to what we’ve been discussing?” If the person expresses a concern, make sure you understand the degree of intensity, importance, or urgency of their disapproval. You might say, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how frustrated are you about this?” or “How important is this to you?”
Accumulate; don’t react. If it’s the first time you’ve heard a certain judgment, become curious about the broader picture. Are you hearing this because this person is the canary in the proverbial coal mine and is the first to say something? Or is this a single instance, best set aside until you hear similar comments from others?
Apply the criticism to your role, not yourself. We often mistake our role for ourselves. We take things personally that are not personal at all; they are a condition of the job we’re in. For example, the head of sales might find fault with the head of products — no matter who occupies that position. Instead of conflating yourself and your role, determine whether the criticism is about you or the issues and tensions your role naturally evokes.
Connect with your personal board of directors; don’t isolate yourself. When we’re reeling from criticism, we tend to withdraw from others. Instead, reach out. Cultivate a diverse group of six to 12 people who are invested in your success and who will tell you the truth. Contact the members of this personal board of directors, share how the negative comments affected you, and seek their perspective and advice.
Take care of yourself; don’t try to push through. If your colleagues’ comments are particularly painful, it might take a psychological and physiological toll. You may find it hard to sleep or eat well. During these times, carve out more time for yourself. Identify two to three small rituals or practices that help renew your energy. It’s important that these actions are fairly simple so that you actually do them. Some examples might be taking a three-minute walk outdoors to get some fresh air, connecting with a friend on your drive home, journaling for five minutes at night, or waking up each morning and thinking about one person you’re grateful for in your life. (Bonus points if you then send that person a note expressing your gratitude.)
After many long walks, I realized that even though I’d spent most of my life trying to be likeable, it was an illusion to believe that I would be universally beloved. To move forward as a successful executive, I had to develop a stomach for criticism — even if it meant a bruised ego. In the end, I talked to the people in my organization and acknowledged their various opinions. Then I clearly stated what the plan would be going forward and told the group that I hoped they would join me in working wholeheartedly toward the goals I had presented. Most of them did. Over time, I increased my resilience by following the steps above. I’ve learned to face the realities and benefits of diverse opinions and to value the parts of myself that others may criticize.
Article originally posted at https://www.verywellmind.com/ways-to-deal-with-workplace-cyberbully-460547 and written by Sherri Gordon.
Most people consider cyberbullying a teenage issue, but the workplace is not immune to cyberbullying. In fact, workplace bullies often use cyberbullying to intimidate coworkers and control their environment. As a result, knowing how to respond is essential. While every situation is different, if you know in advance how to handle a workplace cyberbully, you should be able to get through the situation unscathed. Here are 11 ways to handle cyberbullying at work.
Do Not Respond Immediately
When a coworker or a supervisor says something inflammatory, posts something untrue or attacks you online, take a moment to gather your thoughts. No matter how much the words hurt you, do not respond in anger. Instead, take a deep breath and collect yourself. The goal is not to react but to respond in a reasonable manner. Sometimes there is no need to respond. Other times your job requires that you maintain contact with the person.
Keep Your Response Calm and Rational
Although it is usually best to ignore a cyberbully, sometimes work situations require that you respond to an email or other forms of communication. If you can respond in person rather than in writing do that. But do not get into a shouting match. It’s also not a good idea to lash out with angry words and accusations of your own. You do not want the entire office watching an exchange between you and another co-worker.
Tell the Cyberbully You Expect the Behavior to End
Remember, your interpretation of the written word may be different than intended. So be sure to communicate openly and honestly about what you found offensive. Do not resort to threats but instead, calmly indicate that you were offended. Be sure the cyberbully knows that you want the comments to stop. If your co-worker’s behavior doesn’t change and the cyberbullying continues, it’s time to move up the chain of command.
Print and Keep Copies of All the Harassment
Try to save all messages, comments, and posts as evidence. This includes emails, blog posts, social media posts, tweets, text messages and so on. Although your first reaction may be to delete everything, without evidence you have no proof of the cyberbullying.
Report the Cyberbullying to Your Employer
Include a copy of the emails or other correspondence for their files. It is important that you continue to report each incident that occurs. If your employer is unwilling to respond or address the cyberbullying, consider contacting the police to file a report. While they may not be able to do anything legally, having a report on file is important should the bullying escalate.
Report the Cyberbullying to Your Internet Service Provider (ISP)
When cyberbullying occurs on your personal accounts or happens at home, it’s important that you report the incidents. Be sure to forward copies of the cyberbullying to your ISP. If the bullying occurred on a social networking site, be sure to report it to them as well.
Contact the Police Immediately if the Cyberbullying Includes Threats
Threats of death, threats of physical violence or indications of stalking behaviors are against the law and should be reported immediately. You should also report any harassment that continues over an extended period of time as well as any correspondence that includes harassment based on race, religion or disability. The police will address these incidents.
Close the Doors of Communication to the Cyberbully
Cancel current social networking and personal email accounts and open new accounts. If the cyberbullying is happening via cell phone, change your cell number and get an unlisted number. Then, block the cyberbully from your new social networking sites, email accounts, and cell phones. Find out if your company’s email program has a filter that allows only those on your “safe” list to send you emails. And if possible limit your online communication at work too.
Report Anonymous Cyberbullying
Many times, the police can track down who is sending the emails and messages. Remember, you don’t have not have to put up with cyberbullying. Many times, cyberbullying will leave a clear trail of evidence that is reported to the appropriate authorities can go a long way in putting an end to it.
Take the High Road
No matter what the person says or does, try to maintain your composure at work. The goal is to remain calm and rational. If you get upset, post negative things or say something you later regret, this could hurt your position at work. Remember, the cyberbully is hoping to get a reaction out of you. Do not allow this to happen. Be as professional as possible at all times.
Cyberbullying is a big issue that shouldn’t be handled alone. Be sure to surround yourself with supportive friends and family. Look for people who can understand what you are going through. Remember, it helps to talk to someone about what you are experiencing. So consider seeking professional help or counseling so that you can heal from the ordeal.
Article written by R. Morgan Griffin and originally posted on WebMD.
Controlling Holiday Stress
Experts say that the holidays can make people feel out of control. We feel at the mercy of our relatives or steamrolled by the sheer force of family tradition. But you have a say. The key is to take some control over the holidays, instead of letting them control you.
For instance, you may find the family obligations of the holidays overwhelming. You have to make the rum balls according to your grandmother’s recipe, even though you personally find them inedible. You have to go over to your aunt’s for the holiday dinner, even though she always drinks too much, makes a scene, and freaks out your kids. You have to leave a poinsettia on your grandfather’s grave, even though it’s three hours and two states away. You don’t exactly want to do any of these things. You just have to.
Duckworth encourages people to stop right there. Do you really have to?
“Ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing things that make me miserable?’” Duckworth tells WebMD. “Think about the reasons.” He suggests that you draw up a list of reasons why you engage in these holiday traditions, and then a list of reasons why you shouldn’t. Just making a simple pro and con list will remind you that you do have a choice.
Changing Your Outlook
The next step is to challenge some of your assumptions. If you enjoyed the holidays differently this year, what would happen? What if you didn’t go to your aunt’s for dinner? What if you didn’t bring the poinsettias to your grandfather’s grave?
Your gut feeling might be: Calamity! Disaster! But get past that initial reaction. Think about what would really happen. Maybe your aunt would be annoyed. Is that really such a big deal? Could you make it up to her later with a brunch in February? Instead of trekking to your grandfather’s grave, could you honor him in a different way — lighting a candle or saying a prayer?
The key is to be conscious about what you’re doing. This holiday season, don’t unthinkingly do things the same way just because that’s how you always do them. If the old holiday traditions aren’t working, if they’re not making you happy and causing holiday stress, it’s time to do something different.
Tips for Beating Holiday Stress
Once you’ve taken a clear look at the holidays — about what works and what doesn’t — it’s time to make some changes. Focus on the holiday stresses that you can control. That includes making different plans and changing your responses to situations. Here are four key don’ts for the holidays.
Don’t do the same old thing. If the usual family gathering is causing holiday stress, try something else. If you’re too overwhelmed to host, discuss other possibilities with family members. Maybe a sibling could have the dinner this year.
Don’t expect miracles. If your holiday anxiety stems from a deeper history of family conflict, don’t expect that you’ll be able to resolve any big underlying issues now. Sure, it’s supposed to be a season of forgiveness and good will. But in the midst of a hectic holiday season, you can’t pin your hopes on leading family members to big emotional breakthroughs. You may be better off focusing on your own state of mind and confronting difficult issues during a less volatile time of year.
Don’t overdo it. To reduce holiday stress, you have to pace yourself. Long before the family gatherings actually happen, decide on some limits and stick to them. Stay one or two nights at your parents’ house instead of three or four. Plan to drop by the holiday party for a couple of hours instead of staying all night.
Don’t worry about how things should be. “There’s a lot of cultural pressure during the holidays,” says Duckworth. “We tend to compare ourselves with these idealized notions of perfect families and perfect holidays.” But in fact, most people have less than perfect holiday gatherings — they have family tension, melancholy, and dry turkey too. If you have negative feelings, don’t try to deny them. Remember that there’s nothing wrong or shameful or unusual about feeling down during the holidays.