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  • A Different Take on Conflict for the New Decade

    Liz Lerner works with couples to help them build strong relationshipsIt’s 2020 – the beginning of a new decade. But it’s clearly not the end of all the conflict we’ve seen over the past few years. Turn on the local or global news and you’ll see it everywhere. In fact, our environment is so politically charged right now that people are taking sides, sometimes at the expense of their relationships.

    The good news? There’s never been a better time to work on reducing conflict with those around us. Especially those we love.

    World events aside, we all experience interpersonal interactions that cause stress, whether they occur at home or work, or are related to concerns about our children, aging parents, our own health or just about anything else. Life is full of situations that can lead to stressful conversations.

    When things get heated conversations go awry because of the way we express ourselves. We become flooded with emotion and our frontal lobe (our thinking brain) goes offline. We start talking straight from our limbic system and amygdala (where our survival instincts come from). So, instead of remaining calm and having a productive conversation, we fight.

    I know. Even though I’m a clinician and coach, I’ve been in situations where I’ve acted more from emotion than thought. My experience of being a caregiver for my very independent parents and going through a divorce helped me hone everything I teach and test it on myself. The benefit: being in potentially high-conflict, high stress-situations and remain in control over my words and actions. What a life saver that was for my family, because when one person makes a change, it effects the whole and everyone benefits. We all want to find a way to have less conflict and experience connection rather than suffering.

    If you’d like to reduce conflict and stress in your relationships, start with these three tips:

    #1: When you’re upset, write down your thoughts and feelings. This practice uncovers the real issue (which is often not what we think it is) and will help you figure out what you really want. Stick to writing about the present issue because dredging up the past will only make the current situation seem bigger than it is.

    #2: When you’re ready to begin the conversation, use “I” rather than “you” statements (e.g. “I feel X when Y happens.”). This avoids conflict from the start by ensuring the other person doesn’t feel blamed – and the calm that results allows both parties to feel heard.

    #3: Listen actively by repeating back what the other person has said. This not only helps you be certain you’ve heard correctly, but also shows the other person they’ve been understood. Active listening also slows down the conversation enough to prevent knee-jerk reactions.

    Practice these three tips alone and you’ll be well on your way to a different, more productive approach to conflict in the new decade.

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