My cousin stayed with us the other day. She’s in her mid-20s. As we were sipping tea into the night, I shared a bit about my day - a hard conversation I had with one of the other parents on the PTA, a friend with whom I needed to share some difficult news. At a certain point, she turned to me and said, “Life is just one hard conversation!” I am not sure how happy she was about that realization. When you are young and starting out, it’s simpler to think, “These things are hard now, but I am sure they get easier with time.” But for most of us, of all ages, confronting conflict is never easy. One of the things I learned recently from a colleague, Joni Orbach, a mediation expert in Jerusalem, is that there is a cycle to conflict. Once we understand the cycle we can slow it down and even change the outcome. Stage 1 - We get triggered by some event that happens: “He said he doesn’t want to bring me along to the meeting.”
Stage 2 - We interpret that event in a particular way: “That must mean he doesn’t respect me!” Stage 3 - We have an emotional response based on our interpretation: “I feel angry at him!” Stage 4 - We act on that emotional response: “The next time he asks for my help, I am going to ignore his request.” At any point in the process, with enough self-reflection, we can slow down the process and consider: Stage 1 - Why am I being triggered? Take a deep breath and count to 3. Stage 2 - Is there another way to interpret what he said? Ask a question that gets you curious about what prompted his comment: “Can you share what led you to the decision to not invite me to the meeting?”
Stage 3 - What is my emotional response about? Take a break, drink some water, take a deep breath to give yourself time to respond. Stage 4 - What is a way to respond that is constructive? Tell him what is important to you, and that in a productive work relationship, sharing reasons for decisions is useful. Having a hard conversation takes presence, courage, and the will for something to change. It is so much easier for us to take the path of least resistance. Our tried and true reactions are our dear friends. We go back to them all the time. If we want to live braver and more fulfilled lives at home and at work, taking responsibility for slowing down the cycle of our responses is an important step.