We’ve all been there – someone says or does something that makes your blood boil or truly hurts your feelings. The first instinct is to lash out and say something equally mean or hurtful right back and maybe even worse.
... or you stay quiet and ruminate and think of what you’re going to say next time or how you’ll get even
... or maybe you retreat completely and refuse to deal with the conflict.
There are any number of unhealthy ways to respond to a person or situation that makes us angry or hurts us in some way. Often, these unhealthy reactions simply exacerbate or escalate a problem and do not help in resolving a conflict. Reacting in unhealthy ways does not allow you to listen effectively to others or to express your own feelings in a way that you can be heard as well.
Responding, rather than reacting, is a lot easier said than done. However, through the practice of mindfulness we can change the way we respond to people or circumstances that bring us to a more peaceful resolution. Even if the conflict does not get “resolved” at least you haven’t done further damage to the relationship or end up having to apologize or repair situations that occurred because of your reactions.
This is not to say we diminish or deny our own feelings, it’s that we acknowledge them and figure out how to best express them so the communication is effective.
When a person practices mindfulness consistently and effectively they can stay in the present moment, pay attention to their thoughts, words, actions as well as those of others around them. A person practicing mindfulness in communication is seeking to understand first and then to be understood. Here are some helpful tips:
1) Breathe! First and foremost, when someone says or does something to you, stop, and BREATHE. Taking a breath (or three) can help you take the pause you need to get oxygen to your brain and help you think more clearly.
2) Pay attention to what you’re feeling – name it – angry, sad, hurt, confused, etc. Name it – either to yourself or to the other person if possible. I’m feeling (NO BLAMING or ACCUSATION) _____.
3) If you need to take a break to clear your head, take a quick walk if possible or just gather your thoughts – meditate, pray, something physical usually helps get out some negative energy – tell the person you need to take a break and you’d like to talk about this when there’s less tension.
4) If steps 1-3 don’t work or aren’t possible, BREATH and stay present. Listen to what you’re thinking and feeling in your mind and body. Try to relax any tense part of yourself.
5) Ask for clarification and say, “What I hear you saying is _______, is that right?” When your emotions are heightened frequently you will hear something differently or make up your own story about what you hear. Communicating what you hear the other person saying can disarm them also and help them be more rational. You can then say, “Is there more?” Listen carefully and ask for clarification if need be. When they’re done, ask if they would listen to you in the same way and express your own thoughts, feelings, needs, etc.
6) Stay present. Don’t bring up past problems or transgressions (and ask kindly that the other person do the same).
7) Lastly, try to come to a peaceful resolution and thank the person for having a dialogue with you, for listening to you and sharing with you.
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For more on this topic look for Imago therapists or books, web sites, information, etc. on Imago communication.
About the Author: Sara C. Tate has a Masters in Teaching, a Bachelors in English and has been an educator for over ten years. She has been practicing yoga since 2005 and over the past three years has deepened her meditation practice. She is living a quiet, peaceful, joyful life in Virginia with her husband, Curtis, and their two cats, Buddha and Fozzy. She has been writing her blog (http://saratate3.blogspot.com/) for the past two years and hopes the blog will be an inspiration and help to others, as well as continue her own personal journey in self-awareness.
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