Have you noticed that we are on our best behavior around people we don’t know very well or are meeting for the first time? We naturally want to impress and create a positive image in hope that someone will pass along kind words on our behalf. It is challenging to keep this ‘front’ up, so the closer we get to people, the more we begin to act like our real self. It would be easier if being nicewas the place we chose to operate from all of the time. I find it conflicting to dance between being Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Take family, spouses and significant others for example; little by little, as we let our guard down, these people soon see other aspects of who we are. Eventually, we don’t care to dazzle them. I find this ironic – shouldn’t we be prudent and nice ALL the time? Doesn’t it make sense to put an extra effort into being pleasant and thoughtful with the people closest to us? After all, we are headed into the long haul in their company.
Where does communication begin to breakdown? As we become comfortable with a person, it is easier to be more careless with our words – we may start to blame them, get defensive or overly critical. Once this begins, it becomes a challenging cycle to break and we essentially get into a rhythm called toxic communication.
Toxic speak makes matters worse instead of better. When a disagreement arises and we take a definitive stance, it is harder to back down instead of coming to an agreement. We spend most of our time trying to convince the other person to change their particular perspective and see it our way. We become more invested in being right than coming to an understanding.
Here’s an example: recently I was listening to family members argue about directions – one found it easier to follow written directions, while the other preferred an iPad using a map. They went round-and-round trying to convince each other their particular method was better. In the end, we were still lost.
When we agree upon the fact that we each learn and think differently, this becomes the starting point for a more productive conversation. From here, we can begin to uncover what is actually beneath the disagreement. Often an argument, as simple as directions, is camouflage for a deeper issue.
Ways to move away from resolution:
1) Get defensive and make excuses using an angry voice.
2) Blame the other person and make the situation their fault.
3) Criticize who they are.
4) Shut the other person out and ignore them.
5) Speak down to someone and hold them in contempt.
We do this to others in order to look good or feel superior. In reality, it creates a cycle of poor communication that becomes hard to break. A friend of mine once asked me: “Do you want to be happy or do you want to be right?” Good question! I remember at the time, I wanted both. When I let go of the need to be right, I become a more peaceful person. Because really, who cares if I’m right…except for me?
Ways to move towards resolution :
1) Be a great listener and give up the need to be right.
2) Open yourself to someone else’s point of view and be respectful.
3) Realize we are all doing the best we can – if you are aware of your own poor behavior, you have an opportunity to do better.
4) When you are in conflict, reach out to the other person with goodwill that will draw you together.
5) Do something nice for the person you are having a disagreement with.
We often stand our ground out of sheer stubbornness. Instead, if we do or say something nice to the person we are in conflict with, the energy softens and it is easier to move towards resolution. Here, we begin to laugh and not take ourselves so seriously.
The key is to remember to move towards resolution instead of away from it; kind words move us towards peace and toxic words move us away. Humility and softness create an opportunity to get off our high horse, bridge the gap and encourage a positive connection. If we are able to reach out and say “I’m sorry” or “what can I do to make this better?” we demonstrate an act of kindness. It is necessary to remember to give what we would like to receive. Changing patterns is not easy, yet it is necessary if we want to learn to get along.
Thank you Coach David for your insights! My work with you has been invaluable.