Using Compassion to diffuse Conflict…
Helen Froggett-Thomson from Thomson Training is an irrepressible entrepreneur and former Hertfordshire Businesswoman of the Year. Her down to earth approach and thirty years of coaching and creation of communication, sales and leadership strategies has transformed hundreds of small businesses and their teams.
Everything has changed, almost overnight. And high stress and uncertainty bring tricky communication issues to the fore. Now more than ever, we need to think about how we use our own approach to communication to achieve the greater good. We’re trying to hold things together but in that state of perpetual anxiety it doesn’t take much to push us over the edge. In short we’re going to have to be much kinder to ourselves, be more patient with each other. And forgive more quickly and cut everyone some slack.
We’re all familiar with random acts of kindness, but how do kindness and compassion translate into our daily dialogues? We’ve all been there. Someone’s said something to us which has hit a nerve. Our instinct is perhaps to explode in indignation, embarrassment and a huge desire to defend ourselves. In the current climate it could be a disagreement about what to buy as essentials, who is getting up with the children or any number of fraught scenarios which working from home/being with our families 24/7 could generate. Some issues will require hard decision making and uncomfortable outcomes. There is no blue print here. We’ve got to rely on what feels right for us. Listen to ourselves. And as importantly, listen to others. That’s difficult at the best of times but now, it’s even more vital.
A cycle of conflict is so easy to sink into. Many cohabiting couples will recognise this cycle and while it’s entirely natural and present in most households, it’s also hugely damaging and eats away at the very foundations of a loving relationship and family life.
In the next few months we will be spending a lot more time with our ‘loved ones’. The people who we usually have a ‘break’ from, for many hours a week. The potential for explosive dialogue is huge and it would be far better to be living in relative harmony than a potential war zone.
We all know that ‘communication’ is the key and cure to pretty much everything. But it’s so ‘trite’ and well, just so damned difficult. And what does it mean anyway?
It’s such a big topic but I’d like to share some thoughts on helping yourself have the best outcome to the next situation which makes you feel uncomfortable and defensive, using kindness and compassion.
The first thing we need to remember is that we have a choice about how we react. Yes someone’s put something across in a poor way. But perhaps it’s taken them all their courage to bring the issue up in the first place? Or they’ve just blurted something out, just after thinking to themselves ‘no, don’t say anything, wait’. I know I have!
We might have been dealt an unkind and exaggerated personal blow, or simply a mild comment we’ve taken as criticism but we have a CHOICE about whether to make it better or worse. While it’s obviously easier if both parties are on the same page here, in reality it’s not likely at this stage. So you have the opportunity to take responsibility and take the lead, even if you feel like you’re the victim. How reassuring!
Communication can be broken down into ‘receiving and transmitting’. The essence of a standard conversation. But if you add the heat of negativity and potential conflict into the mix it can go wrong in an instant.
- Receiving -active listening, being really present and showing we’ve heard; being empathetic
- Transmitting – expressing clearly, in a way that can be heard without judgement, what we want to say.
What we receive/hear is open to a lot of interpretation by us – if nothing else, our past experiences and assumptions of similar words/behaviour and an instinct to protect ourselves and our reputation. So we are likely to jump into verbal action quickly without analysing our feelings or considering our needs. Or theirs. How often is the phrase ‘you’re not listening to me’ or ‘you never listen to me’ at the start of something pretty negative?
It’s clear that the feeling of not being heard is the root of many conflict situations.
- The easiest way to diffuse a difficult situation is to show you’ve heard what they’ve said. This also buys you time to think about how their comment has made you feel so you can work out how to respond.
How do you show you’ve heard what they said? The temptation is to start with ‘you…..’ but this is loaded with accusation and when people feel defensive their instinct is to interrupt. And then you are both talking over each other and it’s getting heated as you raise your voices to try to be HEARD! Sound familiar? If this happens, all is not lost. Just take stock and start again. Perhaps even apologise and say ‘this is getting out of hand. Can we take a minute and start again?’ It’s never too late to be compassionate. We’re all human, all trying to meet our own high expectations of ourselves to live our best life.
So starting the ‘showing you’ve heard’ part needs to start ideally with ‘I can see/understand/feel that you are angry/hurt/confused by … and not, ‘you are…’. Much safer to always start this repeating back with the word ‘I’ and go from there.
The more detail you can add after this ‘I’ the better, using words that they actually said. This PROVES YOU WERE LISTENING like nothing else will do. This in itself can have a massively calming effect. It’s not uncommon for someone to start to back pedal at this point when they realise they’ve perhaps come across a bit strong in an attempt to shock you into some sort of reaction.
- Now’s the chance to need to express your feelings. Their comment might have blindsided you. They’ve taken something out of context/misunderstood what you did or said? You could actually apologise for the situation escalating. ‘I’m sorry that what I said made you feel that way (and then continue to explain what you heard them say, and then go on to explain how you feel or what you actually meant….’ etc. That’s if you are of course. There’s no room for dishonesty here.
So you’ve shown them you’ve heard, you’ve perhaps shown some empathy (seeing it from their point of view) and started to express your feelings.
- Now you need to resolve and move forward. Depending on the situation the resolution could be simple or complex. Let it flow. Let the person talk. Express what you need or were intending to convey. Try to use non judgemental language and blaming. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘can I have a minute here, I just need to think before I say any more, I don’t want to make this worse….’
So in summary, when you’re feeling ‘attacked’or in a potentially conflicting situation
Step 1 : Listen actively. Be present. Start with ‘showing you’ve heard’ which could start with ‘I can see/understand/feel that you are angry/hurt/confused by …
Step 2. : Express yourself. Again from an ‘I’ perspective. So you’ve shown them you’ve heard, you’ve perhaps shown some empathy (seeing it from their point of view), apologised or/and started to express your feelings.
Step 3: Find a way forward. Discuss options and agree a plan of action if necessary or a way to prevent the situation flaring up again if at all possible.
Simples?! Well no, it’s not. But if you try just one thing, showing you’ve heard what someone has said by repeating back and remembering to start with the word ‘I’ rather than ‘You’ will attract more kindness, compassion and understanding into your life, in this most difficult of times. And that’s surely got to be a good thing!? As they say ‘every little helps’!
By Helen Froggett-Thomson from Thomson Training. March 2020