The longer social distancing and self-quarantines continue, the harder it becomes for us to picture what our post-pandemic world will look like. And so, it’s not uncommon for our worries and anxieties to escalate.
In these unusual times, close personal relationships are more important than ever – other people with whom we can share our frustrations, anger, sadness, or perhaps a much-needed laugh. Having others to lean on can considerably reduce our stress and anxiety.
But what about when conflict inevitably arises in our closest relationships? Heated arguments or carrying around resentment creates significant stress and adversely affects our emotional and physical health.
You can actually reduce or eliminate that stress by tackling difficult conversations. I know that seems unlikely when you consider the stress of not knowing what to say. Or when we believe that saying something will only make things worse. Our brain prefers predictable negative consequences over uncertain outcomes.
So, you might try this to dive into that difficult conversation, clear the air, and strengthen the relationship. First, keep in mind that when you still have to live together, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get to a better place. Then, listen with genuine curiosity to what the other person has to say. According to the award-winning actor Alan Alda, “real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you.”
In his best-selling book, Never Split the Difference, author and former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss advises to describe back what you hear starting with “it seems like…; it sounds like…; or it looks like…” For example, “it sounds like you felt hurt.”
Then, instead of explaining yourself, Voss advises asking questions that start with “how,” and “what,” not “why,” since “why” puts people on the defensive. For example, what about what happened caused you to believe ________?” To avoid reacting emotionally and taking things personally, the key is to stay focused on the emotions behind what the other person is saying.
The more we resolve conflicts like this, the easier it becomes. And the added benefit is we get to set an example for our kids. We can give them a language they can model to resolve conflicts in their own relationships and friendships as they get older.
And when we communicate with a real understanding of another’s viewpoint, with genuine curiosity, respect, and compassion, our personal relationships will become stronger and more rewarding.
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