“Can you close the blinds on the windows? I can’t handle the movement outside.” Anxiety increases our heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. In turn, too much rapid movement around us can further induce anxiety by escalating the sympathetic nervous system response. This is why the majority of our mediations and coaching sessions occur in rooms protected from external movements.
“Why do I have to talk to her? Everything is fine. I will go to work, do my job and leave.” Anxiety increases our desire for the easiest route to resolution, even if it is not the most effective, just so our system can settle. We often need to hear what is in it for us in order to try a different route to the one our system is being pulled towards.
“I keep waking up at night wondering how I could have handled this differently.” When we are sleeping our brain continues to process what occurred during the day, week, month, year, etc., except it is the equivalent to operating a car without using the brake pedal. When we sleep, our limbic areas take over while our prefrontal cortex shuts down. The result is that as we dream without rational control, and cortisol is released into our system and wakes us up to protect us from the perceived threat.
“I know you told me what to expect in the joint mediation session, but can you tell me again? I don’t remember exactly what you said.” The increase in cortisol levels causes the hippocampi to be stunned, thus impairing our short term memory. When in conflict situations, it is common for people to forget details, lose their car keys, not remember where they parked, or to have periods of ‘vegging out’ where they don’t know how they got from point A to point B.
“But you are mine and I don’t want to share you with X [the other party].” This comment is by far the most telling in terms of what anxiety does to us. Anxiety creates the desire to bond, to find a safe person to console us, hear us, support us, and guide us through our anxiety. Participants in coaching and mediation hold on tightly to the coach/mediator they have bonded with and look for cues of ongoing confidentiality, presence, and safety.
In conflict situations, anxiety management is key:
Accept the anxiety.
The key to resiliency is accepting reality as it is; part of your reality can be anxiety. This does not mean accepting being miserable, but rather recognizing that your friend, anxiety, is tapping you on the shoulder and needs your attention. To deny it, will be to induce it further.
Manage your self-talk.
The voice inside your head will trick you, it will tell you that this is the worst situation ever. It might tell you that you can’t handle this or you don’t deserve this or this is all your fault. It will talk you up. Your job is to question your self-talk and balance it. How realistic is what it is telling you? How will you cope if the worst outcome happens? How do you want to be, or perceived, when the situation is over?
Ramp up your self-care.
The conflict situation will pass, and it will be resolved in some fashion. How you will be after it is all said and done, depends on how well you take care of yourself during the conflict situation. Truly listen to what your system needs moment by moment and grant yourself these essentials. It may be warm milk, a blanket, a safe conversation, a hot water bottle, exercise, a nutritious meal, etc.
Engage in strategies that soothe your skin.
The brain and the skin are made up of the same material in utero, so when you soothe the skin you soothe the brain. This includes massage, acupuncture, facials, putting your hand over your heart, and a good old fashioned hug.
Take a break from the anxiety.
It’s helpful to oscillate between noticing and settling your anxiety and just getting on with day-to-day living. Ask yourself every so often, “If I wasn’t attending to my anxiety right now, what would I be doing?” Then go do it.
Know too, that our role as conflict management practitioners is to support you not only in resolving the conflict, but managing, challenging and settling your anxiety.
It’s rarely easy to walk away from an interaction that is going sideways. Most of us want to get the conversation on the right track and yet we have to swallow our pride, walk away and try again later.
Why Disengage When Fighting Feels so Right:
There will be a price to pay for allowing the conversation to escalate. The price might be financial, professional, or personal. Ask yourself how much of a price you want to pay and then allow the conversation to escalate accordingly.
You are more likely to get another chance to converse and sort through issues more effectively. When we disengage from a conversation in a reasonable fashion, people usually allow us another opportunity to sort through the situation without making it more difficult for us.
You get to maintain your dignity. You don’t have to worry about what others will say about your behaviour or what will emerge on YouTube. In fact, you will be seen as poised, confident and compassionate.
Disengaging builds relationships with clear boundaries. People learn what you will and will not tolerate and the grace with which you will respond to what you will not tolerate. Disengaging gives people information about who you are so they can decide how they wish to engage with you.
In the long run, disengaging effectively feels way better than any fight. Your system does not have to go through the highs and lows that come with anger, you don’t have to wake up at 3 am to plot your next argument, and you don’t have to take your stress out on those you love.
When to Disengage:
You asked someone to stop a particular behaviour and the behaviour continues.
You are triggered and are finding it difficult to self-regulate.
The other person continues to ramp up regardless of the listening or assertion skills you are using.
You are too hungry, tired or stressed to navigate the conversation. Your brain needs glucose every 2-3 hours in order to allow you to maintain self-control. It gets this glucose from food, so by the time you are hungry your ability to self-regulate will be impaired. Many of us also convince ourselves that we can handle yet another conversation even if we are exhausted or stressed. This suppression of emotion creates over activity in the core of the brain – the limbic areas – resulting in increased anxiety and dropped impulse control.
You still have the ability to disengage – before you are yelling, blaming, being sarcastic, etc.
Six Easy Steps to Disengaging:
Take responsibility for what is not going well for you in the conversation. Own it and don’t blame the other person. “I am finding it difficult to track our conversation because…”
Name what the problem is for you. “we continue to speak over one another.”
Commit to resolving the problem. “I want to sort through this issue with you in the best way possible.”
Set up another time to continue. “Let’s try again tomorrow at 3 pm (pick any timeframe that allows you some cool down time). I will call you/see you then.”
Thank the person for allowing you to step away. “Thanks for letting me take this pause.”
Either end the conversation by walking away OR listen to the other person’s response, acknowledge it, and reconfirm your commitment. “Yes of course you want to be heard and I want to hear you too. That will help us get the best end result. I am confident we will get to a better place tomorrow. I will talk to you then.”
The key, at this point is to make sure you take time to self-regulate, find perspective, and of course show up to re-engage.
There is apparently an art to giving feedback, and yet even the most suavely and courteously delivered feedback shatters the sturdiest of people. Plus, in many organizations, structured feedback is still a foreign concept. Organizations have allowed self-awareness and reflection to become buzz words that allow us to say we are all-knowing of our strengths and flaws, while we shrink away from any real feedback others may have to offer.
The thought of feedback alone induces fear in most. What do we fear though? We fear being seen in any way other than the way we wish to be seen. Feedback unearths what we see as our dirty secrets – or more gently stated – our flaws. Most of us work diligently to cover up our flaws with expertise, education, years of service, relational abilities, etc. Feedback exposes us, and our fragility emerges resulting in an inability to accept the feedback. Perhaps, receiving feedback is what should be considered an art that ensures we balance our sense of self with what others offer us.
So, how can we receive critical feedback especially when fear, flaws and fragility exist?
Feedback is an offering. It is an offering from those who care about us (most of the time) or those who need a change from us. To reject the feedback is to reject those who offered it. Instead, accept it and attend to it in the same manner you would anything of value and importance.
Take the time to grieve the difference between who you think you are and how others perceive you. Feedback brings with it loss – loss of face, loss of identity, loss of connections (how could someone say this about me), loss of self-confidence, loss of safety – this loss must be given space to emerge and settle.
Name what is true/right in the feedback. It is easiest to find flaws in the feedback, and yet if we can name what is right it gives us an opportunity to focus on that which we must attend to in order to truly grow.
Focus on themes and do not hone in on words. This will only hurt and this hurt will hold you back from doing the work you need to do.
Make an action plan to address one-two themes in feedback. The amount we take on to address must not be greater than what our heart can tolerate.
Thank those who finally shared the good, the bad and the ugly. They too could have just avoided the feedback.
The conversation is getting heated. You can feel the pressure inside you building. You need to speak. How should you speak so you get heard with adding fuel to the flames? Try these 7 tips to speaking effectively in fiery conversations and see what happens!
Slow yourself down and pause the voice inside your head. Remember, that voice is highlighting your emotional reaction and what you need to access is your rational processing. If you breathe, tell yourself ‘you can handle this’, you have a greater chance of focusing on what is really being said and therefore what you actually need to speak to.
Make sure the other person knows you are slowing down and focusing on them. This includes attentive and curious eye contact, settled body movement, and encouraging facial expressions. It’s ok…you might as well find out what the person is thinking because they are thinking it anyways.
See the other person the way they want to be seen first (paraphrase of a Mahatma Gandhi quote!)
Ask questions that link to what is being said.
Verbally prove you heard what is being said, even if you disagree.
Verbally agree where you can, as often as you can. Fascinating how agitated people like to be agreed with!
Own what is yours to own. If you erred in some way, own it without excuses.
Consider, do you even need to share your perspective? How necessary is it? How much value will your thoughts add? Can you let the other person go unchallenged? When might there be a better time to come back and address a specific comment or moment in the conversation?
If you decide you need to share your perspective, then ask permission to share your thoughts. There is no point wasting your time, energy and words if the other person is not ready to hear you. The worst they will say is ‘no, I don’t want to know your perspective’, in which case you repeat 1-3. What you won’t do is get heated!
When you do share your perspective cover off these basic areas: what you value, your hopes, your concerns and your intentions behind anything the other person saw as problematic conduct, and what you would like to see moving forward. Be measured – go slow, pace yourself, speak for brief 20-30 seconds of time, keep your tone as normal as possible. This is how you make sure you don’t undo all of the great work you did in steps 1-5.
After you speak, pause and listen and see what the other person took from your perspective. Prove you heard them and re-clarify anything that requires re-clarifying…of course in a measured manner.
This should add water to the flames and turn the conversation into a more productive dialogue that allows the relationship to stay intact.
We ask questions all day long to collect information, to help us in our decision making, to deepen dialogue, build rapport, and to create understanding. Knowing what question to ask and how best to ask it can be challenging work.
Regardless of how you do it, the question will create a ripple effect in the conversation, leading either to large turbulent waves or calm ripples of clarity. If it’s the latter you are seeking then keep these tips in mind when asking questions. Continue reading →
In the midst of a rather tense and emotionally charged conversation, you make what you think is an appropriate comment defending your perspective. Your conversational partner distorts his face into a look of disbelieve, puffs up and points his finger at you. You don’t know what to say or do to keep the conversation from derailing…
The Four C’s of Managing Moments of Escalation
Compose: In our brain are mirror neurons that mirror the physiology of people around us, meaning as you compose and self-regulate so will your partner. Bring down your heart rate, body temperature and blood pressure by taking a breath, straightening your posture, grounding into the floor or chair, slowing down your rate of speech, dropping your volume and managing your tone.
Check: Use a two-step process to check out what just happened: State the change you just noticed and ask a question about the cause. Eg. “I just noticed you let out a sigh, what just happened?” Or “I just noticed our conversation heated up. What message did you just receive from what I said?” Whatever he responds with, prove you heard it. Don’t debate it, negate it, contradict it or argue it, instead honour it.
Clarify: State what you did mean to say and why. If you made an error in how you said it, or in what you said, own it.
Close: The moment of escalation needs a pink bow around it! Once you’ve clarified, re-focus the conversation back to the topic you were discussing. This can be done by asking the other person a question about his/her perspective or by providing a summary of the key points prior to the moment of escalation.
Productive dialogue is cultivated moment-by-moment. Use these four steps to allow rich and meaningful dialogue to emerge out of moments of escalation.
Contact us to explore how our team of experts can guide you through challenging situations and leave you well equipped to manage differences, conflict, and change.
You lead a key department in your organization. You have two employees who are in conflict with each other. They are currently only communicating via email. There is a general tension in the department and other staff members are expressing concerns about the conflict. You have noticed that one of the disputing employees is taking more sick days than usual and you are hearing grumblings about a possible harassment complaint. You decide to step in and help both employees resolve their differences directly with each other…