Dealing with Conflict - Time Is On Your Side

time 3.JPG

You know that feeling of an interaction gone wrong? It could be face to face, over the phone, via email or text. The blood starts boiling, emotions take over and you just want to SCREAM! Yeah, that one.

My thoughts go right to defending myself. I need to make myself whole again. What can I reply that will re-establish the power balance? How can I defend myself? With a personal insult? By denying someone something? By hurting the other party somehow?

"None of the above" is the right answer, but at the time, boy do they all feel like the right thing to do. We want to take action, do something!

I’ve been experiencing a challenging situation recently. The dispute has been petty and unnecessary and some of the behaviour towards me has been nothing other than mean. Written messages are curt, actions are offensive, And, I am not responding…at all. Stepping back and looking at the situation, I am seeing the other person is in a lot of pain and is lashing out in a way that, I guess, must feel good, in the short term at least. It was hard at first…I just want to say something back or take some sort of action, but there is no response that really makes sense in the heat of the moment. I am waiting for the opportunity to have a conversation when both parties are calm and can have a meaningful discussion. That is the only way we will get past this and find some way to get along again, like rational and civilized individuals. I am doing my best to continue along the chosen path. I hope I continue to do the right thing.

We all get upset. It happens. Sometimes often, sometimes seldom, but it happens. It's what we do next that matters most. Do we lash out? Do we have a sharp tongue or pen? Do we raise our voice or become mean? Do we stomp around, throw things, punch things or, worse, people? Whatever it is, it's out of character...unless we stop and leave the situation, and its associated emotional build up...of it all. 

But how can we possibly leave it be? It's a choice to stop ourselves in our tracks and realize that our behaviour, at that point in time, is not rational. To realize that our response will be out of character and not in line with what our rational self would do. And, more importantly, it will not make things better long term. It never has for me anyway.

“You cannot shame or belittle people into changing their behaviors.” - Brené Brown

So what is the antidote to bad behaviour? To bad reactions to given situations and outcomes? Time. It allows emotions to dissipate and helps us regain perspective.

"They say revenge is a dish best eaten cold, but for most people, by the time it's ready to eat, they just don't fancy it any more." - Jo Brand

Being in the moment is great...when times are good. Paying attention to it all is wonderful during times of bliss when all senses are merrily engaged. That is the time to create memories that encompass all the senses - sight, smell, sound, taste and touch. Heightened awareness helps seal in memories, making them available to be cherished for years to come. 

Being in the moment and being hyper focused on it when times are bad has, well, the opposite effect. The moment festers. We hone in on how we are being slighted, wronged or injured. We want to react because it will make us feel better, even if only in the now. The reaction is visceral as opposed to thoughtful. Our lizard brain takes over and our reaction is out of character. We almost always regret our short-sighted reaction and immediate actions. And, as is the case with the great moments, our heightened senses ensures we always remember these unfortunate moments as well. These memories are not only vivid, but they are often accompanied by feelings of regret and shame. 

Being aware of our thoughts and actions enables us to realize when our lizard brain wants to take over and that flight versus fight is the better option, at least in the immediate. Negative feelings can help us identify when it's best not to act and to take a step back. Separating ourselves from a situation that becomes emotionally charged helps our real selves resurface. We are all familiar with this. It's at the root of books such as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde or comics such as The Hulk. It's a constant internal struggle between the good and evil within each of us.

Our logical selves often have different preferred reactions to being wronged, slighted or injured. These different reactions are more likely to be onside with our preferences in the long run and are therefore reactions we are unlikely to regret over time. They might even be reactions we are particularly proud of or that we don't even recall because they are a match with the person we are or aspire to become. 

Regret, and the shame that often accompanies it, is a tough cross to bear and we should avoid it when and where possible.  

So why would I write about this topic? Because it does not only apply to personal relationships. It applies to all interactions, including professional and commercial relationships with product and service providers. Behaving badly costs us on all levels. It can cost us opportunities, special offers, favours, even unexpected assistance in various areas of our lives. It's hard to know exactly what the occasional momentary lapses in judgement really cost us. If you think about it, how likely are you to help out or offer something to someone who has a quick temper or a sharp tongue? How likely are you to make concessions when negotiating with someone like that? I doubt you would be inclined to give much up. 

I wish you good outcomes from even the most trying of circumstances. It is possible. We just have to choose to act in line with our character by being aware of our reptilian alter ego and managing our response when it decides to surface. 

How do you handle tough situations? Fight or flight? Share your story.