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: November 6, 2014 - Year 12, Issue 11
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Stress States Impact Communication
This month’s HEALTH column is brought to you by my collaborator, Judy Zehr. Judy is a therapist and coach with expertise in managing stress and rewiring brains for more joy, peace and balance. We’ve collaborated on an e-course on how to apply her expertise to the subject of self management in conflict. She shared one of her articles last month and I’ve invited her to share another one this time. Enjoy!
This morning I casually mentioned to my husband that we have to take a car in to be serviced before work. It’s a task we’ve done frequently throughout the years, and I assumed he would say something like this: “Ok hon, no problem.”
Instead, he looked at me with a scrunched up face and said, “Why? There are four people in this house. I’m sick of taking care of everything. Get the kids to do it.”
His voice was tense and angry. I took one look at his facial expression and knew that he was “in a bad mood” or stressed. He started off on a familiar path.
“The car has to be the kid’s responsibility. You always protect them. The last two times……”
I didn’t let him finish as I knew where this was going, and I didn’t want to get defensive or “triggered” and join him on that familiar and not pretty path.
So I said, “OK, I see what you mean, don’t worry about it, I’ll find another way to get the car in.” That sounds super nice, but I had a certain energy of disapproval in my voice, or huffiness, that I couldn’t quite control.
I left the room briefly to get something, he went upstairs to shower and dress for work. Fortunately, we had a tiny sideswipe but not a full on collision.
Thinking about this, I remembered that my husband had a big lunch event he was in charge of that day. He was doing something he did not enjoy being responsible for, and he was tired of being asked to be the one responsible for feeding 80 people.
My husband was stressed, and it completely changed his communication with me that morning.
According to Emotional Brain Training, or EBT, he was probably in a 4 or 5 brain state, which means his negative feelings were ramped up, his thoughts were judgmental and critical or black and white/all or nothing. He had tunnel vision, wasn’t able to see the big picture. He was working on “just getting through it” that morning, and it impacted his vocal tone, his words, his feelings about me, the car and the kids.
No need for me to take this personally, or to blame him. It’s not me, it’s not him, it’s his neural circuits, his brain in stress.
EBT suggests that there are 5 distinct brain states, and the brain state that we are in will impact our communication and how we approach conflict.
In fact, conflict tends to lower our brain state, and the more the conflict triggers our “schemas”, the more activated our stress will be and the more challenges we’ll have in communicating. It will be harder to listen, to stay centered, to discuss our point of view with understanding and a calm demeanor.
Our schemas are old patterns of beliefs, or unconscious expectations. For instance, if I analyze my husband (I apologize ahead of time, he hates being analyzed) my hunch is he has an old schema that gets triggered around responsibility.
He grew up with a single Mom, who left her two boys home alone a lot. They took on projects like making dinner, cleaning the house, getting jobs and contributing to the family, far earlier than I ever did (with my stay-at-home Mom and good-provider Dad).
If my husband feels he is being asked to do too much, take on too much responsibility for others, he pushes back, goes “below the line” into stress and conflict. His old schema gets triggered. Going “below the line” means falling into old patterns of stress. It affects our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
As a therapist, I often help people uncover these schemas and “rewire” them so they are less often triggered. But in the meantime, it’s helpful for communication and conflict to know your own triggers, have a sense of your schemas (as well as your significant other’s, not to mention your bosses and your close co-workers), so you can navigate stressful communications with a bit more awareness.
A reasonable expectation is that we will all get triggered at times. It’s built into our stress response neural circuitry. But the more we can learn about our schemas and our brain states, the more we can minimize the damage that can be caused by getting triggered.
My colleague, Julia Menard and I, are soon to publish a book helping people learn about brain states and how to stay connected to themselves during tough conversations. If you’d like to learn more about brain states, schemas and conflict, please feel free to contact either of us. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“It is my daily mood that makes the weather. I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration, I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated, and a person is humanized or de-humanized. If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”
… J. W. Goethe
2. ENVIRONMENT - Gratitude, Service & The End of the World
Over this last year, my thinking about the state of the environment has been evolving. I have come to a place of peace in accepting that our species is headed for a sixth extinction, and we’re taking a lot of other living beings with us.
This mindset frees me up somehow to enjoy the ride. It’s a lot like admitting that death truly is traveling on the shoulder of each of us. Acknowledging death’s presence is not a debilitating thing. It should be a freeing thing. Knowing we are all going to die anyway, frees up that fearful energy to be put into living each day with gratitude and purpose.
The gratitude comes as each day becomes a gift to be opened, delighting in still being alive – with the same wonder of a child or a beginner’s mind. It’s the morning. I’m still alive! It’s lunch time, what a miracle that I’m still here! It’s the evening. How lucky I am to still be here!
Connecting with this attitude of receiving great blessings just because I’m alive brings with it a sense of purpose. As I truly feel grateful for being here, I start to feel blessed, lucky, and then privileged. If you can get to that place of feeling privileged to be alive, that’s the jackpot! It takes regular practice to sink into that deeper place of gratitude, however. I can do it now as I write out these words, but I’m certainly not practicing it like I want to. Feeling privileged to be alive comes with it a sense of responsibility to give back. It is that natural impulse which is our own sense of purpose rising up in us. Our purpose is to serve.
So, for me, acknowledging that the earth is dying is an honouring of what is. As I do that, I can then feel the feelings that come with that realization. All the spectrum: rage, sadness, fear and guilt. They are all there. Going through the rainbow of more painful emotions, in the end, does allow us to arrive at that proverbial pot of gold.
The answer, for me, is to serve through connection. It’s my ferverent belief that we need each other. Through good times and bad. Through birthings and dyings. Through our sixth extinction.
And learning how to do that collaboratively is the most important work there is.
“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by ‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in.’ Hungry not only for bread — but hungry for love. Naked not only for clothing — but naked for human dignity and respect. Homeless not only for want of a room of bricks — but homeless because of rejection.”
… Mother Teresa
3. NEGOTIATION - Collaborative Politics
When I listen to politicians, their negotiating styles often surprise me. Instead of speaking and listening in ways that can engage a deeper conversation, the conversations are often one way. They are full of blaming language and personal attacks, all designed to “win.”
What we lose in the push to win, however, is the richness that comes from dialogue.
To illustrate, I’d like to reference the recent tragic killing of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, a soldier stationed in Ottawa. According to the killer’s mother, her son was suffering from mental illness. According to the Conservative government, her son was a terrorist. This distinction is not just word play. The words chosen frame what “really” happened and the actions to follow from there.
If Michael Zehaf-Bibeau was mentally ill, there would be more call for resources to be put in the direction of treatments for those with mental illness. If he was a terrorist, then there is no need to think about vulnerabilities. Instead, attention is turned to defense from attack.
This story is a perfect example of the need for dialogue and collaboration within our political system. On the one side, the NDP party is saying Zehaf-Bibeau was mentally ill, as his mother had said. On the other, the Conservative party is saying he was a terrorist. The NDP are saying that framing it as terrorism is resulting in new legislation being “written on the back of a napkin” in haste and preying on people’s fears. On the other side, the Conservatives are saying they have been working on the legislation for months and that it is much needed.
These kind of polarized perspectives are common in any conflict. Continuing to push one’s own point of view does nothing for creating greater understanding. Seeing the other “side” as wrong and with malicious intent creates more divide. We need our political parties to engage in vigorous collaborative and courageous conversations to take advantage of the wisdom in both sides.
We need a third side.
This will be achieved if we start calling on our political leaders to be collaboratively and conflict competent. We need our leaders to engage in discourse that seeks to understand before being understood. We need leaders who can articulate their own perspective and the perspective of others. We need leaders to be able to hold a “both/and” perspective – to be comfortable with paradox and complexity.
This is the kind of leadership required for a new, more complicated and formidable world. Rhetoric on either side increases our exposure and risk. Understanding and collaboration brings a variety of solutions and a depth of results we need in Canada. We need to be, once more, the model for the world.
“I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively.”
… Golda Meir
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training