Archive for Conflict

Remember That We’re All Doing the Best We Can

mirando el horizonteNovember 13, 2014

I’m sometimes amazed and embarrassed by how critical I can be – both of other people and of myself.  Even though I both teach and practice the power of appreciation (as well as acceptance, compassion, authenticity, and more) when I find myself feeling scared, threatened, or insecure (which happens more often than I’d like it to), I notice that I can be quite judgmental.  Sadly, as I’ve learned throughout my life, being critical and judgmental never works, feels good, or leads me to what I truly want in my relationships and in my life.  Maybe you can you relate to this yourself?

I’ve recently been challenged by a few situations and relationships that have triggered an intense critical response – both towards myself and those involved.  As I’ve been noticing this, working through it, and looking for alternative ways to respond, I’m reminded of something I heard Louise Hay say a number of years ago.  She said, “It’s important to remember that people are always doing the best they can, including you.”

The power of this statement resonated with me deeply when I heard it and continues to have an impact on me to this day.  And, although I sometimes forget this, when I do remember that we’re all doing the best we can given whatever tools and resources we have (and given the circumstances and situations we’re experiencing), it usually calms me down and creates a sense of compassion for the people I’m dealing with and for myself.

Unfortunately, too often we take things personally that aren’t, look for what’s wrong, and critically judge the people around us and ourselves, instead of bringing a sense of love, understanding, acceptance, forgiveness, and appreciation to the most important (and often most challenging) situations and relationships in our lives.

When we take a step back and remember that most of the time people aren’t “out to get us,” purposefully doing things to upset or annoy us, or consciously trying to make mistakes, disappoint us, or create difficulty (they’re simply doing the best they can and what they think makes the most sense) – we can save ourselves from unnecessary overreactions and stress.  And, when we’re able to have this same awareness and compassion in how we relate to ourselves, we can dramatically alter our lives and relationships in a positive way.

Here are some things you can do and remember in this regard:

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time people have good intentions.  Many of us, myself included, have been trained to be cautious and suspicious of others, even seeing this as an important and effective skill in life and business.  However, we almost always get what we expect from people, so the more often we give people the benefit of the doubt, the more often they will prove us “right,” and the less often we will waste our precious time and energy on cynicism, suspicion, and judgment.
  • Don’t take things personally. One of my favorite sayings is, “You wouldn’t worry about what other people think about you so much, if you realized how little they actually did.”  The truth is that most people are focused on themselves much more than on us.  Too often in life we take things personally that have nothing to do with us.  This doesn’t mean we let people walk all over us or treat us in disrespectful or hurtful ways (it can be important for us to speak up and push back at times in life).  However, when we stop taking things so personally, we liberate ourselves from needless upset, defensiveness, and conflict.
  • Look for the good. Another way to say what I mentioned above about getting what we expect from other people is that we almost always find what we look for.  If you want to find some things about me that you don’t like, consider obnoxious, or get on your nerves – just look for them, I’m sure you’ll come up with some.  On the flip side, if you want to find some of my best qualities and things you appreciate about me, just look for those – they are there too.  As Werner Erhard said, “In every human being there is both garbage and gold, it’s up to us to choose what we pay attention to.” Looking for the good in others (as well as in life and in ourselves), is one of the best ways to find things to appreciate and be grateful for.
  • Seek first to understand. Often when we’re frustrated, annoyed, or in conflict with another person (or group of people), we don’t feel seen, heard, or understood.  As challenging and painful as this can be, one of the best things we can do is to shift our attention from trying to get other people to understand us (or being irritated that it seems like they don’t), is to seek to understand the other person (or people) involved in an authentic way. This can be difficult, especially when the situation or conflict is very personal and emotional to us. However, seeking to understand is one of the best ways for us to liberate ourselves from the grip of criticism and judgment, and often helps shift the dynamic of the entire thing. Being curious, understanding, and even empathetic of another person and their perspective or feelings doesn’t mean we agree with them, it simply allows us to get into their world and see where they’re coming from – which is essential to letting go of judgment, connecting with them, and ultimately resolving the conflict.
  • Be gentle with others (and especially with yourself). Being gentle is the opposite of being critical. When we’re gentle, we’re compassionate, kind, and loving. We may not like, agree with, or totally understand what someone has done (or why), but we can be gentle in how we respond and engage with them. Being gentle isn’t about condoning or appeasing anyone or anything, it’s about having a true sense of empathy and perspective. And, the most important place for us to bring a sense of gentleness is to ourselves. Many of us have a tendency to be hyper self-critical. Sadly, some of the harshest criticism we dole out in life is aimed right at us. Another great saying I love is, “We don’t see people as they are, we see them as we are.” As we alter how we relate to ourselves, our relationship to everyone else and to the world around us is altered in a fundamental way.

As the Dalai Lama so brilliantly says, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Everyone around us – our friends, co-workers, significant other, family members, children, service people, clients, and even people we don’t know or care for – are doing the best they can, given the resources they have. When we remember this and come from a truly compassionate perspective (with others and with ourselves), we’re able to tap into a deeper level of peace, appreciation, and fulfillment.

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The Power of No

March 17, 2010

How do you feel about saying “no?” I notice that saying “no” to certain people and in some situations can be challenging for me. Sometimes I find myself saying “yes” when “no” would really be more authentic. More covertly, I also find myself at times giving “half-truths” (which is quite an oxymoron if you think about it) to people when they present me with opportunities, engage with me about connecting, etc. You know what I mean, you run into someone and say, “We should really get together sometime,” but you really have very little interest in or commitment to making that happen. Does this ever happen to you?

What is it about saying “no” that many of us have a hard time with? For me, it comes down to a few specific things. First of all, I get scared that people will get upset or disappointed if I say “no.” Second, I’m not a huge fan of hearing “no” from others myself, so being the one saying it can be difficult for me. And lastly, I consider myself to be “yes” type of person. I pride myself on being open, willing, and ready to say “yes” at all times. In other words, “no” often seems like a failure, an admission of weakness, or just an overall negative thing to say.

However, saying “no” is one of the most important aspects of living a life filled with balance, integrity, and authenticity. Our ability and capacity to say “no” with confidence is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. This is about creating healthy boundaries, honoring ourselves, and being real – it’s not about being closed, cynical, or unwilling.

The majority of people I know, especially these days, live their lives with a feeling of “overwhelm” that either runs them or at least gets in their way from time to time. If you think of the aspects of your life where you feel most overwhelmed, stressed out, or ineffective – there is probably a theme going on – you haven’t said “no” when you needed to. If you also think about any relationships in your life where these is stress, struggle, or conflict – you saying “no” with honesty and kindness is also probably missing.

When we don’t say “no” in an authentic way we end up feeling burdened, resentful, and even victimized (although, ironically, we forget that we are the ones who said “yes” in the first place).

Saying “no” does have real consequences. Sometimes we will upset, disappoint, or annoy people. We also may have a significant amount of fear about saying “no” to certain people (our spouse, boss, co-worker, friend, child, etc.) or in certain situations (at work, with clients, with our in-laws, and more).

However, there are huge benefits to us enhancing our capacity and comfort with “no.” Tapping into the power of “no” creates freedom, liberation, and a real sense of trust with the people in our lives. When we’re someone that says “yes” when we mean it and “no” when we mean it – others know they can count on us to be real, tell the truth, and come through.

And, when we “no” with confidence, honesty, and compassion, we do one of the best things we can possibly do to honor and appreciate ourselves.

How do you feel about saying “no?” What can you do to enhance your ability and capacity to say “no” with confidence and ease? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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The Triangle of Truth

January 18, 2010

I have a love-hate relationship to conflict. I love it when things “work out,” but hate it when they don’t. My fear of things not working out, of people’s feelings getting hurt, or of me losing something important are usually high on my list of justifications for not saying certain things, not engaging in the conflict at all, or selling out on my deepest truth even in the midst of it.

However, as I look deeper at what my definition of “working out” really is, I realize that it’s often some version of things going my way or some compromise that leaves me feeling like I’m the “good guy” and that the person or people involved still like, appreciate, or approve of me.

Can you relate to this? You may have a different version of this story, but most people I know and work with have a disempowered relationship to conflict and have come up with creative ways of avoiding it, not dealing with it, or manipulating themselves, others, or situations so as to not have to engage in conflict in a vulnerable way at all. However, as we’ve all noticed – this doesn’t work or give us much power in our relationships or our lives, especially when it comes to conflict.

Recently, I had the opportunity to interview my good friend, Lisa Earle McLeod, on my radio show about her latest book called The Triangle of Truth. Lisa, a speaker, consultant, and expert in conflict resolution, teaches through her books and in her trainings that in every conflict there are really three sides to it (like a triangle) – my truth, your truth, and then the higher-level solution.  It’s not about “compromise” or “right vs. wrong” in most cases – it’s about being willing to engage in conflict in such a way that we allow something bigger, better, and more inclusive to emerge.

As the famous quote from Albert Einstein reminds us, “We can’t solve the problems of today with the level of thinking that created them.”

In talking to Lisa about her book and the Triangle of Truth model that she teaches, I realized that my own fear of upsetting people or having them not like me, as well as my erroneous attachment to being “right” not only create more stress and separation in my relationships, they get in my way of engaging in healthy conflict, which thus robs me and those around me from coming up with higher level, more creative and inclusive solutions – which ultimately benefit all of us.

Here are the six principles Lisa teaches and how we can all use them to embrace conflict, resolve it easier, and come up with solutions that can serve everyone involved in the best way:

1) Embrace AND – So often we get caught in “either/or” thinking which makes us and those around us crazy, is quite sophomoric and limiting by its nature, and doesn’t allow us to see or hear anything else than what we already “know” to be “true.”

2) Make Peace with Ambiguity – Based on our own fear and because so many of us, myself included, like to be in control – we often resist uncertainty. However, being comfortable with uncertainty and allowing ourselves to hang out in ambiguity gives us the openness, patience, and perspective necessary to allow creative solutions to emerge.

3) Hold Space for Other Perspectives – When we’re able to listen to, understand, and appreciate where someone else is coming from (even and especially if we don’t agree with them) we allow the space for something new to arise. It takes practice and trust to allow other people to share their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and perspectives with passion – and for us to just let them be. However, when we allow other people the space to share openly, they often gives us that space in return and we can then find out we’re not always “on the other side” in the way we think we are.

4) Seek Higher Ground – Because we often avoid conflict or even when we get into it try to get out of it as fast as possible, we sometimes rush to come up with “solutions” or “compromises” just to stop the conflict. This compromising process often “works” on the surface, but doesn’t address the deeper issues and won’t give way to the higher level solutions. It’s only when we’re open to and actively look for those higher level solutions that they begin to materialize. This happens when we seek higher ground, instead of simply trying to “win” the argument or end it at all costs because we’re uncomfortable or scared.

5) Discern Intent – With issues that mean the most to us or cut right the core of our most sacredly beliefs, we often have a hard time considering anything else than what we already believe to be true. In this process, we often vilify those who don’t agree with us. “Those people” – the ones who think differently than we do -become “them,” in a negative way. When we look for and find the positive intention of others, even if we don’t see things the way they do, we can get to the core of what’s really true, not just what our ego wants to argue about.

6) Elevate Others – This is all about raising the conversation in our heads, with the other people involved, and about the whole situation. We can and do have impact on other people. We’re able to elevate the conversation with others when we focus on being real and vulnerable (i.e. honest about how we really feel) and also focus on appreciating and empowering those we’re engaged with (i.e. acknowledging them and being grateful for who they are). We can lift up the people around us and in the process lift ourselves up and create the higher level solutions we all truly want.

Resolving conflicts in an open, conscious, and positive way is a lot easier said than done. And, when we remember these simple (but not always easy) principles, as well as the metaphor of the triangle (our truth, their truth, and the higher truth/solutions), we’re able to engage in conflict in a way that not only brings forth better and more inclusive solutions, but can actually create the kind of peace, growth, and harmony we really crave in our lives, relationships, families, communities, and workplaces!

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Resolving Conflict

June 10, 2009

How do you feel about conflict? Many people I know and work with, including me, have lots of creative ways to avoid conflicts. I actually really appreciate conflict myself, although I often get scared at first to initiate or engage in conversations that may result in a conflict. Whether we’re comfortable with conflict or not, it’s a part of life, relationships, and work – and always will be.

When we look at conflict more deeply, we realize that it is a vital aspect of growth, change, and every important relationship in our life. The pain, suffering, and stress caused by conflict doesn’t usually come from the conflict itself, it comes from our avoidance or denial of it.

Most of us have not been trained to engage in conflict in a healthy, productive, and authentic way. This is what caused us to run away from it or when we do engage in it, we spend most of our time and energy on protecting ourselves from getting hurting, trying to “win,” or both.

The more we embrace being real, authentic, and speaking our truth, the more effectively we’re able to engage in and resolve conflict in an honest and successful way. Here are some important components of conflict resolution for us to remember and practice:

1) Take responsibility – It always “takes two to tango.” Taking responsibility is not about being at fault or blaming the other person, it’s about owning up to the situation and recognizing that we are a part of the issue.

2) Address the conflict directly – Conflicts are always handled most successfully when they’re dealt with directly and promptly. Be real and vulnerable when you approach someone with an issue, but make sure to do so as soon as possible, don’t let it fester.

3) Seek first to understand – As challenging as it can be, the best approach in any conflict situation is to listen with as much understanding, compassion, and empathy as possible – even and especially when we’re feeling angry or defensive. If we can understand where the other person is coming from, even if we don’t agree, we have a good chance of being able to work things out.

4) Use “I” statements – If someone does or says something and I have a specific reaction to it, that’s real. If I judge someone, make a generalization about them, or accuse them of something not only is it not “true” (it’s just my opinion) it will most likely trigger a defensive response from them. We must own our feedback as ours, not speak it like the “truth.”

5) Go for a win-win – The only real way to have a conflict resolves authentically is if it’s a true win-win for everyone involves. This doesn’t necessarily mean that each person gets his or her way. It does, however, mean that everyone gets heard, honored, and listened to. And, when and if possible – we make compromises that leave everyone empowered and in partnership.

6) Acknowledge others – Whether it’s a one-on-one conversation or a situation that involves lots of people, acknowledgment is essential to our ability to engage in productive conflict and to be able to resolve it in an authentic and effective way. Thank the other people involved in the conflict for being willing and able to engage. Thank them for their truth.

It takes courage for each of us to engage in conflict. When we acknowledge each other, operate with kindness and humility, and remember that vulnerability is the most important aspect of resolving conflicts effectively, we’re reminded that we’re all in this together.

There are really only two ways to deal with conflicts effectively – directly, all the way through, until they are resolved (not just we get our way) or to completely let them go (not talk about them, not think about them, etc.). We actually know how to do both of these things, although we often opt for a third option, which never works (trying unsuccessfully to address the conflict and then telling others about how right we are and wrong the other person or situation is.

Think of some of the biggest conflicts in your life right now. Are you ready to resolve them? If so, decide whether you’re willing to let them go or not. If not, make a commitment to yourself to engage in them using these steps above and do so in an honest, genuine, and vulnerable way. Don’t wait until it’s too late – have the conversation now.

Which conflicts in your life are you willing to let go of? Which ones are you willing to address directly? Share your thoughts, ideas, commitments, and more here on my blog.

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