I was recently at a tense meeting where two of the people have a history of offending one another. As so often happens in these situations, one of those people said a comment, which the other person misinterpreted. That moment turned into a huge tumbleweed of a mess. Afterwards, I had the chance to talk to one of them and offered him consolation and advice. He told me he didn’t know how else to respond and I said to him, people are much more open to hearing you if you respond instead of react. He had never learned the difference between the two.
This will be the most important point of this post. As I shared last week, we humans will experience a wide spectrum of emotions throughout our lifetime. This is all normal and healthy and we must allow ourselves to experience even the most painful emotions instead of what we normally do: 1) Judge ourselves for having them (which makes that emotion evolve into something stronger and a more twisted version of itself) or 2) We repress them by using a distraction. Go to last week’s post to read more about this.
But the second part of this is how to engage with other people when you’re in the middle of experiencing heavy negative emotions. In last week’s post, I encouraged you to find a safe space to truly feel your negative emotions but what if you can’t because you’re in the middle of a staff meeting or surrounded by other people? Or what if the people themselves are the ones triggering the eruption of those emotions?
In the case of the former, this is what I recommend. If you are with people you trust and the environment is safe, then let it loose! Let them in on what you are experiencing. Let them hold you and provide a generous space for you to express yourself. Now, if you do not feel completely safe to do this because you’re in an environment where you’re expected to be professional, either compartmentalize it or be honest with people if you have a chance by saying “hey look you guys, I’m not in the best mood right now. It doesn’t have anything to do with you, it’s just something I’m going through.” And then move on. Muster as much composure as you can to be present in that moment.
When I say, “compartmentalize,” I don’t mean repress or ignore. What I mean by this is that when an emotion comes up, the best way to deal with it is to allow yourself to experience it. But if you can’t because of your surroundings, tell that emotion you will give it your full attention at the appropriate time and place. That gentle assurance will help you move on in that moment.
When a person is the one who is actually triggering your negative emotions like the example in my first paragraph, then, and this is going to sound very challenging for some of us: filter out your raw emotions and victim-story-interpretation and respond with your higher self—the self that doesn’t see herself as a helpless victim but as a loving agent who acknowledges the utmost power she has in crafting how this conflict plays out.
Ideally, you want to walk out of a conflict without regrets about how you behaved. You don’t want to cave to others’ bad behavior or stay silent on issues you need to speak up about. At the same time, you don’t want to come off overly defensive or hysterical—two tendencies that occur when you cast yourself as a victim in a conflict.
This is where the distinction of “responding” versus “reacting” comes into play. The first is full of power, confidence, vulnerability, understanding and love. The latter is highly insecure and based on a false interpretation of the situation with you cast as a powerless victim. If you have been hurt, by all means let the other person know! But there is a difference between saying, “I was really hurt when you said ________,” and “how dare you say that!”
My tendency is to completely hide my emotions in the face of conflict and play it cool, pretending like what the other person doesn’t hurt or affect me. That’s not healthy either because it’s important to stand up for ourselves. It’s something I’m working on and I’ve had a few successes this past year with conversations I really didn’t want to have because I was scared. But afterwards, I was so proud of myself and my relationships with these people got so much better.
So…five things to leave with you:
Allow yourself to feel without a victim story propelling it. If you can’t because of surroundings,
Let others know so they can be compassionate to you. If it’s not appropriate to do so,
Compartmentalize, tell your emotions that you will give it your fullest attention in a safe place and carry on with business as usual.
And finally, respond instead of react. Tell others the truth with vulnerability, love and confidence. Stand your ground and avoid being swept up by your victim story.
Finally, it’s okay to just fall apart some times. You’re not perfect and others aren’t either. Hopefully this reminder will help you to continually offer grace and forgiveness to yourself and others.
Blessings everyone. Here’s to building strong relationships—it’s one of the best things this life offers to us.