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: June 2, 2015 - Year 13, Issue 6
Table of Contents:
1. HEALTH - Identify Your Own Stress Thumbprint!
As some of you know, Judy Zehr and I have been working on an e-book together which we are calling “Hold On To 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 5. We love hearing your feedback! Enjoy!
Becoming more mindful of your own stress state is a vital tool in knowing whether you should believe your thoughts or challenge them. Becoming more familiar with your stress states also allows you to know which tools to choose for which state. As we outlined earlier, we’ve simplified our internal states into three basic ones:
- Balanced. In this inner state, you are in homeostasis and all systems are humming along, integrated and balanced. You can speak openly and with compassion. You are connected to yourself and the other person. You feel free to share your feelings and needs, and listen to the other person’s perspective with understanding. The communication stays in ease and joy. In general you feel secure, worthy, capable, balanced and connected. You are your Best Self.
- Triggered. In this inner state, your stress hormones and early belief patterns are beginning to get activated. You may begin to doubt yourself or have stronger feelings like worry, fear, anger or guilt arise. You may begin to edit your conversation and not feel safe. It’s harder to listen to the other person. You may find yourself beginning to judge them or defend yourself. You perceive the hints of a threat (to your identity, self esteem, point of view, security, or even your life) and your body and conditioning are beginning to take over. In this state you are triggered or activated. You are moving toward your unconscious, fight/flight/freeze/submit posture. You are on edge and start to slip away from that calm, cool, collected person you like to be.
- Out of balance. Here your stress hormones and neurobiology have hi-jacked your balance and you are diving down into a more primitive brain state. Your feelings are ramped up or shut down completely. You can no longer really hear what another is saying. You’ve forgotten your message and have gotten caught in past memory loops or what are called “schemas”. Your anger or panic, self–doubt or anxiety are in full swing and have taken over. Your thinking has become all or nothing, black and white, tunnel-focused, negative, judging or rigid. You are in full-blown stress mode. Your fight, flight, freeze, submit response is fully activated. This is not the Self you are proud of!
The good news is that the tools we present will help you raise your set point back to homeostasis or balance. As you raise your set point, those around you will benefit as their set point will tend to raise, too. This is due to “limbic resonance”. Limbic resonance is the tendency for our emotional energy to impact those around us. The more we can strengthen our connection to ourselves, the stronger we can impact the emotions of those around us. We’ve all known people who just seem calm. They carry that presence with them. How do you feel when you are around them? That’s limbic resonance!
Of course it works the other way, too. Think about someone who tends to be grouchy, negative, irritable or discounting. How do you tend to feel around them? We have that kind of impact on each other – a kind of emotional contagion. We can “catch” each other’s emotions.
What is your unique stress thumbprint?
Applying mindfulness to your stress response means spending time reflecting on how your tendencies in stress play out for you personally. Each stress thumbprint is different and knowing your own gives you more feedback information for when you are starting to get out of balance.
Take a moment to reflect on how you tend to think, feel and respond when you are in these three states. You can think of a difficult situation, relationship or conversation you’ve experienced lately. This could be either at home or at work – whatever comes to mind and seems to hold a bit of a “charge” in the recalling. Imagine what happens for you as your stress gets triggered. Now, create 3 columns on a piece of paper. In the left column write “Thoughts”. In the middle column write “Feelings” and in the right column, write “Behaviours.” Now jot down some of the cues that can help you identify your stress state.
Just start noticing….
Just by beginning to notice these patterns you are increasing your self-awareness, laying down the foundation for change. Can you build in a practice where you are simply asking yourself daily: “What state am I in?” You can do this a few times a day: at the start of your day, at your mid-morning coffee break, at lunch, at the afternoon break, and before heading into dinner. You can even enlist others at work to help remind each other: “What state are you in?” Setting a timer or putting it in your computer or calendar are also other ways to support your practice.
- What are your unique signs of being triggered? What thoughts do you think in a triggered state that are clues that you might be starting to be stressed? What are the feelings you experience in your body? What are the behaviours? It is especailly important to raise your awareness about your triggered state, as this is the state where you have the highest chances of circumventing before going to a full-blown stress response. So make sure you jot down what your thoughts, feeling and behaviours tend to be in that state. Think about the latest thing that irritated you – at home or at work. Not something where you “lost it” – but it was irritating. What do you say (habitually) about the other person or yourself or the situation? What do you often feel? What do you often do? Capture these in the 3 columns.
- Now, reflect on what happens when you go into that full-blown stress response. What do you notice about what you are thinking? Are there some familiar thoughts? Familiar feelings? Typical behaviours? Learn to recognize yourself as you slip into this state. Raise your mindfulness around it to catch yourself. Also, practice some self-forgiveness about these times. Once we slip into a full-blown stress response, it’s often too late to do much but some basic damage control to extracate ourselves before more damage is done. The power and leverage happens by raising our awareness before it gets to this stage. Go back to the 3 columns, draw a line ending the section above and capture your full-blown stress state thoughts, feelings and behaviours in the three columns.
- Lastly, how about when you are in Balance? What are you thinking? Feeling? Behaving like?
Increasing mindful awareness of your stress states strengthens your ability to hold onto yourself through stressful conversations and situations.
"The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice there is little we can do to change until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds."
… R.D. Laing
2. ENVIRONMENT - 10 Principles for One Planet Living
I came across a reference to something called the “OPL Initiative” recently, which sounded interesting. What I discovered is the OPL Initiative stands for the “One Planet Living” Initiative. That might sound a bit grand but it’s essentially a set of ten core principles created by the World Wildlife Fund and the BioRegional Development organization to act as criteria upon which to evaluate our own communities, cities, regions and/or countries regarding sustainable living.
Sustainability has become such a commonplace word that it can lose its meaning. So it can be helpful to have a concrete list of what is meant by the term. The ten standards which go into the OPL definition of sustainability are:
- Zero Carbon
- Zero Waste
- Sustainable Transportation
- Local and Sustainable Materials
- Local and Sustainable Food
- Sustainable Water
- Natural Habitats and Wildlife
- Culture and Heritage
- Equity and Fair Trade
- Health and Happiness
Interestingly, there are communities across the globe who have applied these principles. The first one more than a decade ago was a small community outside of Lisbon on Portugal's Costa Azul called Mata de Sesimbra. In Canada, a 37 acre site located in the Ottawa region, calling itself Zibi, has recently been declared a One Planet sustainable community.
The One Planet standard in sustainability for development projects represents not just an endorsement of green building standards but a commitment to all aspects of sustainable development through the lifetime of a project. With the Zibi project in Ottawa, for example, some of their highlights include:
- A district-wide energy system, which aims to provide Zibi with zero carbon energy by 2020
- A target for only 2% or less of the waste generated by the completed development to go to landfill
- 90% reduction in transport greenhouse gas emissions compared to the regional average, thanks to prioritising walking, cycling and charging points for electric vehicles
- Cutting water use by more than half compared to the regional average – water-using appliances will be super-efficient and non-potable water will be used for irrigation of green spaces and toilet flushing
- Radically increasing biodiversity (by 400%) above existing levels on the site
- Housing opportunities for a diverse range of renters and buyers, and preferential allocation in some of the commercial space to local and socially responsible businesses
- Working together with the Algonquin-Anishinabe community in ways that generate lasting and tangible benefits to present and future generations; creating a new model for how private developers engage with First Nations in Canada.
The Government of Wales declared the aspiration for the people in Wales 'to live within their fair share of the earth's resources' and pioneered the adoption of the One Planet Living standard on a national scale.
Have a look at the ten principles and see if this is something that could be applied to your home, your neighbourhood, your city, your country.
“Issues relating to global health and sustainability must stay high on the agenda if we are to cope with an ageing and ever-increasing population, with growing pressure on resources, and with rising global temperatures. The risks and dangers need to be assessed and then confronted.”
… Martin Rees
3. NEGOTIATION - You Are Who I Think You Are
One of the common dynamics in conflict is coming to conclusions about how someone is. I am reminded of that recently in my work in mediation, in my own personal life and as a recurring conflict pattern.
A recent example from my own life involves a close family member who lives thousands of miles away and struggles with an addiction. I called him recently and he had been “using” again. My voice immediately constricted and I could feel my anger rising. I knew the thoughts and lecture mode I have gone to in the past, and it generally has to do with wanting him different than he is and thinking he will never change. As he heard my voice, he immediately said: “You think I’m like this 24/7, don’t you?” And I said “Yes, since each time I contact you, you are!” The call ended abruptly.
That small moment was painful for both of us. Painful for me because I wanted him to be different than who I saw him to be in that moment. Painful for him because my own perception of him was so negative and all encompassing, he had to reject it.
This is a common dynamic that I see come up for my clients in conflict as well. Most recently, one client told me she knows her colleague is a “bully” and will never change – so she’s just going to avoid her. When I spoke with the colleague, however, she had no idea that anything was bothering the first person at all.
So who is responsible in that dynamic? Is it the person who has the negative perception of the other? Did that person not send the message accurately? Is it the person on the receiving end of the message? The one who doesn’t get how his or her behaviour impacts others?
Both, I would say, are locked in a dynamic that can only be broken through opening to the possibility that the “other” could be different. The “bully” could be ignorant and in need of specific, constructive feedback (not veiled threats or gossip behind her back). The alcoholic could be in pain and need compassion for his pain. The victim could be feeling powerless and need to be heard.
Bill Eddy, in his book High Conflict People in Legal Disputes suggests strategies for how to deal with difficult personalities. He categorizes, dissects and labels various behaviours into mental illnesses. Although I find using labels limiting, I did find his suggestions for how to deal with personalities “disorders” refreshing. His tried and true strategies include:
- Avoid direct criticism and anger
- Empathize with feelings and frustration, not the dramatic details
- Provide structure and limits to the relationship
- Educate and include when appropriate
- Remain skeptical and cautious.
Now remember, these are tips given by someone who’s both a lawyer and social worker to work with people he’s labeled as High Conflict People. These are really tips and strategies we should all employ in conflict. It helps to avoid criticism; it escalates conflict to criticize. Just because someone is a “difficult personality” – even Bill Eddy says that doesn’t give us permission to criticize and get angry. Yet, if we think someone is pulling the proverbial wool over our eyes, we somehow do think we have permission for all manner of unhelpful, and often aggressive, behaviours.
Keep to your values and principles for how you not only want to be treated, but also for how you want to treat others. And give them the space to be more than a one-dimensional person. Let people be bigger than you are seeng them.
Are there people in your life who you wish were different? People you’ve given up on because they will “never change”? Look again - as your own perception of them is all you will ever see. They are who you think they are. Give them another story to grow into.
“All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”
… Friedrich Nietzsche
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Julia Menard, B.A., Cert. Con. Res., P.C.C.
Leadership & Conflict Coaching, Mediating, & Training