Welcome to HEN - Transforming Conflict for our Health, Environment, Negotiation
HEN is published each month by Julia Menard:
Helping the Workplace Engage - One Tough Conversation at a Time! juliamenard.com
HEN arrives at the full moon -
because light transforms darkness.
Full Moon: August 29, 2015 - Year 13, Issue 9
Table of Contents:
1. What Do You Think?
I need your help!
I’m designing an online version of my Tough Conversations at Work workshop - for leaders looking to strengthen their conflict competence. I’m super excited because many people have told me they need a way to keep their skills going and sometimes it is more convenient to do it at a distance.
Only you know what really needs to go into such a course, so I need your input!
When it comes to tough (difficult) conversations:
Your input will help me design a new course that will help you solve some of these barriers. I’m eager to get on to this, so would appreciate it if you could take a few moments to reply to me by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) asap (by Friday September 4).
- Where do you really struggle with tough conversations as a leader? That is, where are you stuck?
- What are 2 burning questions you would love answered about tough conversations? That is: What do you want to know more about?
Thank you in advance!
2. HEALTH - Space and Conflict
At the end of June, I attended a weekend yoga retreat led by an instructor from Ontario. She had such a presence about her, and would periodically express how important the concept of “space” was to her. I wanted to know more and invited her to write an article about space and conflict for you, dear HEN reader. She agreed! I hope you enjoy it.
The author, Oda Lindner, is a Yoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist who lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
* * * * *
Conflict frequently arises because we react in a disembodied state. For example, let’s say an aggressive looking person walks into the room. What do I do? I withdraw and prepare for a counter attack. This reaction is a habitual pattern that runs off like an automated program. I rarely embody my responses and rarely take time to attend to the physical feeling of annoyance, anger or fear. My unconscious reaction provokes the other to react to my counter attack, equally habitual, equally unconscious, and within minutes we have a full-blown fight on our hands.
Is there a way to break the cycle?
We all are beings that inhabit an area of space. Our body extends in three dimensions. This space is alive, from the toes to the crown of the head. Much of modern life has removed us from this aliveness (i.e. talking on a cell phone), but we can practice feeling this aliveness with disciplines of body awareness such as Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Yoga, which can reignite a sense of physical presence. But how would physical sense of presence help in a situation of conflict? A physically present person, when confronted with antagonism or aggression, takes a deep breath and drops into her body. She physically feels the space she occupies and does not allow herself to be forced into a reactive mode dictated by habitual, mental patterns. She breathes into her heart space and consciously expands beyond her boundaries. This is not easily done because the natural instinct is to either draw inward or to aggressively move forward. But she refrains from both because neither comes from a sense of physical presence.
Resting in the space she occupies, she watches the actions of the other, but she also observes her own reactions. This needs time. She creates this time with slow, focused breathing. While attending carefully to the physical feelings of her own emotions, she is aware of herself, the other and the general situation. This allows her to choose how to react without falling back into old patterns.
In many cases it may turn out that the moment she takes the time to breath and be physically present, the situation is already less charged. This alone may well break the cycle of conflict. Conflicts are like a dance, danced by two. When one person does not immediately join the dance, the other stops - for dancing alone is rather boring.
To sum up, we can say that conflicts are fed by fast, habitual reactions and disembodied ways of being. If these unconscious habits are undercut by embodied, aware Presence and a direct attention to what happens, the conflict loses its fuel and will stop burning.
3. ENVIRONMENT - What Children Know For Sure
I came across an interesting organization called Our Children’s Trust who work with youth in “securing the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for all present and future generations.”
Most recently, Our Children’s Trust launched a legal suit claiming the US government is not respecting the constitution by supporting fossil fuels.
There is nothing more powerful than children speaking up. I remember a well-known Mexican environmentalist telling me a story more than 2 decades ago about a whistler blower he knew. This whistle blower was someone who had given my Mexican friend some information about a controversial environmental threat that my friend was able to go public with and stop. It made a big difference.
Yet the whistle blower used to be someone who was an industrial polluter.
Over dinner, my friend asked the whistler blower what had changed his mind and heart so dramatically. The fellow said one day his company had been in the news about the environmental damage. His grandchild happened to wander in and see the newscast. She looked at the television, looked at her grandfather and said: “Grandpa – that’s your company! Are you one of the bad guys?”
Of course, it’s never that simple. However, for this man, it was. His granddaughter’s reaction hit a chord within his own heart and it was the note that transformed him on the spot. It was the turning point that changed him from major contributor to environmental destruction to a major encourager of a healthy and stable environment – for present and future generations.
So, I know, kids matter. Their voice matters. Hans Christian Anderson had it right when he wrote The Emperor’s New Clothes!
What would your children want you to do for our environment - for this and present generations?
“Children are a wonderful gift. They have an extraordinary capacity to see into the heart of things and to expose sham and humbug for what they are.”
… Bishop Desmond Tutu
4. NEGOTIATION - The Full-Blown Stress Response
As some of you know, Judy Zehr and I have been working on an e-book together which we are calling “Hold Onto Yourself Through Difficult Conversations.” Each month I have been including one excerpt per chapter – moving sequentially through the book. This month’s excerpt is from Chapter 8. We love hearing your feedback!
What do you do when you lose your cool completely and can’t get yourself to use any of the kinds of tools we have talked about in this book?
When your brain is in the full-blown stress response you will be unable to think outside the box, to listen or to creatively problem-solve. Chances are you will be thinking in primitive, black and white, all or nothing terms. You will be seeing things from a skewed, negative perspective that feels very true. You may go into overwhelm, forgetting your intentions, goals and message. Your brain may shut-down, your brain may ramp up. You may lose your voice or express intense anger. You will be in your fight-flight-freeze-submit response.
When your primitive brain is engaged, you will feel threatened, and in this threatened state it’s easy to do damage to your relationships.
In this state, chances are you won’t be able to salvage the conversation and get to a mutually beneficial result. Rather, you may say things you don’t really mean, hurt the other person, and thwart your ability to move forward in meaningful directions.
If you notice yourself spinning, not thinking clearly, getting defensive, yelling at the other person, (whether in your mind or with your voice), the wisest move may be to stop and create what we call a “safe separation”.
A safe separation means you take a moment to acknowledge that you are getting upset, that the conversation is not going anywhere, and that you need some time to cool down and rethink your position.
In a safe separation, the intention is to create space, to interrupt our negative thoughts and interpretations for even a few minutes.
Safe separation is not running away from a conversation. It’s common to stop a conversation abruptly by leaving. Without a commitment to come back to it when calmer, that is simply a version of flight.
Safe separation is about acknowledging that nothing good comes from hurting each other and that you need a cooling off period to be able to keep going constructively. It’s important, therefore, to commit to coming back to the conversation.
By using the safe separation, you are creating a boundary in the relationship and the conversation. That boundary is your pause.
You’ll be creating a new norm in the relationship, where you don’t allow the hurtful comments and difficulties of trying to communicate in the full-blown stress response. No one communicates well in a stressed state.
Creating this boundary is a way of being responsible to the relationship, honoring yourself and the other person.
Putting it into Practice: Inner Damage Control Tool
Sometimes you don’t have the opportunity to state out loud what you need. Maybe you’re in a meeting. Maybe it’s a relationship where you don’t have that ability or permission to set limits like that. Maybe you can’t find the words or are too upset to calmly state your needs at the time.
In these cases, it’s best to use a tool that helps you control yourself in an effort to minimize any damage. The Inner Damage Control Tool is applicable in all situations where you are starting to move into a full-blown stress response.
This is a self-talk, self-soothing tool that can help train your brain to calm itself during tough times in conversations. This particular tool is adapted from Emotional Brain Training.
To practice this tool, simply say these three phrases to yourself, over and over. These three statements are useful to have memorized as well, because you will need to remember them at your most stressed times.
Write these statements down and practice them whenever you find yourself out of balance. For example, when you are in traffic and your brain state is stressed or when you wake up or go to sleep at night and your thoughts are stressful and unsettling. By practicing these statements when you are in general stress, they will be easier to recall during your most stressful conversations.
The first statement is Do Not Judge.
Since the brain in stress has moved to primitive, black and white, all or nothing thinking, we will have automatically gotten judgmental. In this out of balance state, we will be judging ourselves, the other person, the situation, the organization or the relationship. So by repeating these words, Do Not Judge, you are setting a safe limit in your own brain, reminding yourself that your judging thoughts are just a part of the stress response, they aren’t real and they aren’t helpful.
You say this phrase over and over again until your mind calms just a bit, or you are less attached to and engaged in your critical, judging thoughts.
The second statement is Limit the Harm.
As your brain and thoughts quiet, move to the next statement. Limit the Harm. Say this phrase a few times too. As you calm down, you can ask yourself what the phrase might mean to you in that moment. Many times limiting harm will mean do not believe my negative thoughts. Often it will mean “zip my lip” or don’t say the mean or angry statements that are going through my mind. Sometimes minimizing harm means refraining from old habits of hurting myself or others. As you say these words silently, you can begin to put into practice whatever they mean to you in the moment.
The third statement is Know this will pass.
Lastly, say these words: Know this will pass. When we go into full-blown stress we will find ourselves using words like “always” and “never” (“He always picks a fight”, “This will never get better”). This is just an expression of the tunnel vision and black and white thinking of the brain in stress. The truth is, this stress state will pass. You will be able to communicate again. You will feel better. This phrase reminds you of the falsehood of believing this state will last forever. It will not. It will pass.
Repeat these three phrases to yourself, over and over, until you have quieted your brain enough to get through the moment, minimizing the damage of the brain trying to communicate in stress.
Trust the Full-Blown Stress Response
It’s easy to jump to negative conclusions about the full-blown stress response. It’s built into our wiring and neurobiology. It’s not about good and bad, it’s about the perception of worthiness, safety, value, belonging and survival. It’s about each of us and our journey toward wholeness, creative self-expression and making a difference in the world.
Each stress state, even the full-blown one when our feelings and thoughts are the most ramped up and negative, has its purpose as well as its rewards and challenges. Without the full-blown stress response, we would not have survived as a species.
So if you can adopt a more kind and welcoming position, with empathy and an open heart while you continue to set loving limits on how you act and how you communicate during these times, you will be moving forward in your own development and growth. By trusting your body and your deepest self, by trusting your inherent goodness and worthiness, by knowing you don’t have to be perfect or even better to be lovable, worthy and of value, you can strengthen your skills and approach to all kinds of difficult conversations.
"According to Biolinguistics, 'thoughts' are not ideas in our minds--they are conversations that take place within our bodies."
… Morton Orman
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training