Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fighting Fair

Lately I’ve been coaching a lot of people in how to fight fair. We all have conflict in our lives but there are few people who can have a conflict and protect connection at the same time. It is difficult and it requires discipline, but I’m here to tell you that it can (and should) be done.

Let me start by saying there are dynamics one should be aware of before entering a conflict, argument, or a heated disagreement. We all have lenses through which we see the world and of course, they are all different lenses, no two are the same. We are shaped by personality, birth order, gender, culture, and many more factors. I believe strongly that no one should accuse another of having a wrong lens, it just may be very different from yours. It’s your job to try and understand the other person’s lens, not to change it or criticize it.

There are communication styles that we all have, from blunt and harsh to soft and indirect. Some people have a really easy time setting boundaries, and for some that is the scariest process in the world. Some people know exactly what they need, and others just know how they feel. Some people are internal processors and some are external processors. Learning how to bridge these gaps is essential to healthy communication. Let’s start with some ground rules:
  •  I cannot control other people. On a good day I can control myself, but controlling others isn’t even an option. I can hope to influence others, communicate with others, and at times set boundaries – but I refuse to try and control someone else.
  •  Agreement cannot be the goal of communication; otherwise we create a winner/loser dynamic. In that scenario, people tend to just take turns winning and losing (or in some situations, one person always wins and the other always loses). No need to take turns being powerful! You may have to learn compromise and negotiation, but even in that process you can still both wear the pants in the family (or the relationship)! (By the way I hate that saying, who wears the pants?)
  • We all come to the table with our ideas and mindsets of what is “normal”. Everyone’s normal is different. What was normal to one family may be totally foreign to another. Check your judgment at the door when seeking to communicate. Bring an open mind and flexibility – this is crucial
  •  Assertive communication is the healthiest; it is clear and not clouded, it is strong but not aggressive, it is honest and not manipulating.
  • Own your own message, don’t look for comfort in numbers by saying something like: “The whole office agrees with me on this, you should not leave your dirty dishes in the sink.” It’s very tempting to use this crutch, but all it will do is make the other person feel defensive and ganged up on, it’s not productive. Instead, you could say “I’d prefer that everyone be responsible for their own dishes after lunch, do you agree?” or “I would appreciate it if you could be responsible for your own dishes after lunch.”
  • “You” messages will almost always make the other person feel judged and defensive. “You” messages foster disconnection. “I” messages let the other person know what is going on with you, for example:  I’m _____ can you _____? I feel ______ when ______. I’m      unsure of how I should respond to you when _______. I’m not feeling understood right now, I need to know I’m being heard.    
  • I can tell you all day about me, how I feel, how I see things, how I like or don’t like something. But the moment I start to tell you about you, I’ve become an amateur mind reader and I’m assuming I know exactly what you’re thinking, which is arrogant. 
  • Learn the art of asking questions. Questions can diffuse a situation and they can make the other person feel understood. Example of a good question to ask: “I’m sensing you are angry, did I do something to upset you?” A bad example would be: “Why are you so mad at me?” or “Why are you such a jerk?”
  • People have different needs when it comes to how they receive an apology. Did you know there is a quick test you can take to find out how you need to hear “I’m sorry?” These five minutes will help you tremendously in resolving conflict:
  •  Learn to develop the side of your personality that is weak in order to be a more effective communicator. For example, if you are dominant, learn to be a better listener. If you are passive, learn to be more forthright. If you’re unsure, learn to be more confident, if you’re stubborn, learn to be more flexible (and the list goes on).
  • Learn to express needs and feelings instead of demands and criticisms.  
  • People are continually mistreated for one reason and one reason only: because they allow themselves to be. Unsafe people need boundaries and limits. Boundaries protect your sanity, your heart, and your overall well-being.
Healthy communication is scary because you have to be honest and transparent - in other words, it requires vulnerability. What many people tend to overlook however, is that unhealthy communication is scary and painful too, with no hope of resolution. When we hide who we really are we become imprisoned in a mask of deception. We feel powerless in that place, stuck, and victimized. Healthy communication requires courage, but it also has great rewards. Every time you offer truth, every time you ask a sincere question, every time you communicate a need you are establishing a routine that grows connection and protects connection. As human beings we were at our core created and hard-wired for connection with each other. Without connection we die, emotionally and physically. It’s rough to find out you’ve been sabotaging the thing you desperately need because you didn’t know how to grow it or protect it. But it’s never too late to start learning!

Healthy communication is a foreign language to most people. It takes practice, repetition, and practical application to really sink in. Try not to be frustrated in the beginning if you can’t remember the “rules” or if the words seem to come out fumbled and clumsy. Over time, you will become proficient and comfortable with the more healthy approach, especially when you begin to see the fruit of connection all around you.