Thursday, March 29, 2012

Owning Your Power: Managing Conflicts

Snippets of emails I received after the last post:

“As my boss is a vampire, what am I to do about …”
“My (family member) has no concept of boundaries …”
“What do you do when you are married to a victim?”

As I do not know all sides of the stories contained in these emails, there is no way for me to give any detailed advice or counsel.  However, it does give me an opportunity to bring up the subject of “difficult conversations,” especially as it relates to managing and guarding your power.

Conversations v Monologues
When we are angry or upset, the tendency is to Hold Forth: We pronounce, we pass out edicts, we push back … hard. And we do this before we even know what’s going on in the other person’s head and heart!
Conversation are about searching for deeper issues, defining terms, agreeing on principles for a healthy relationship, and other such areas of concern. Monologues are about proving the other person is wrong and making them pay.

Before we engage in such conversations, we will want to determine our outcomes.
Do you want to win an argument (Be Right) or discover possibilities for maintaining this relationship in a healthy manner?
Where and how do you think the breakdown occurred and what are you tentatively thinking is the best way forward for all concerned parties? I stress “tentatively” because you will want to maintain an open mind as to the nature of the breakdown and, therefore, remain flexible as to the way forward.

Sharing Your Pain
As I believe we should be ready to be wrong or to have misunderstood, I suggest we share our upsets as our experience, not as the-truth-of-the-matter.
Stay away from identifying with your upset. “I am experiencing anger”, not “I AM angry”; “I am experiencing hurt,” not “I AM hurt.” Anger and Hurt are not who you ARE! The problem with identifying with our upset is …
When I make my upset about who I am then the other person is attacking my identity, the core of who I am. This only exacerbates the breakdown, because rather than sharing my experiences, I am defending myself from a personal attack. Defensive people don’t have conversations; they have fights to the death.

Feedback is Only Information
Feedback is what you are hearing from the other person. O, sure, they may believe their perceptions are truer than true, but, until you decide whether or not this is accurate, all you are hearing is information. However, and this is important, you need to have the same mindset regarding your feedback. 
Of course, it is almost impossible to hear feedback solely as information, once you let it inside your heart: so don’t. Think of yourself as the catcher on a baseball team. You catch the ball (feedback), look at it, and ascertain whether or not it belongs to you. If not, throw it back to the pitcher! (Respectfully, please: no shots at the head!) “Thank you so much for caring enough to share your thoughts with me. However, at least at this time, I don’t believe this belongs to me.”
Why “give it back” to them? Because if you don’t they will walk away believing you agreed with their feedback. If they do this they will have certain expectations as to your future behaviors in this matter between you: expectations that won’t be realized. Obviously, this will only add to the breakdown.

Owning Your Power
Relational breakdowns are painful. The challenge is maintaining our equilibrium so as to not begin either throwing our power around in potentially harmful ways or choosing to cut our electricity off for a while.
Stay focused and stay strong, or at least as strong as possible. “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” (Ken Blanchard) If it is erroneous, it is still valuable, as it is a window into the mind and heart of the person giving it. If it is factual, you get to grow in wisdom. Either way, it is win for you!
And if you discover that you are dealing with a vampire, loser or victim? Sometimes you simply walk away from the relationship. There are situations, however, where you can’t do this. You need the job or you will see this person at all family functions, as you are a blood relative! What now?
As all situations are unique, I really don’t have solutions or answers for you. I can only give you some guiding principles that may or may not be useful.

Be true to yourself. By this I mean, maintain your personal integrity. You can remain respectful and gracious, without allowing the other person to walk all over you. You can keep your distance without making a scene. You can steer the conversation toward the weather or sports or some other innocuous topic. You can ask the person about a matter that you know they will find interesting and then let them Hold Forth for the next 15 minutes. No gauntlets, no exposed veins.
Maintain your boundaries. “Let’s not go there,” is a perfectly legitimate thing to say. So is, “This is not an appropriate thing for us to be discussing here.” Waiting until later to have a private conversation where you ask them to never Do This or Say That again is preferred over mouth-to-mouth combat before spectators. This is not Thunderdome: it is the place where you have to work everyday or the family-get-together. Collateral damage only increases the potential for irreparable breaches.
Avoid the Nuclear Option. If you need to, simply walk away from the conversation. If she is embarrassed or chooses to be angry, it is her own doing, not yours. If you cannot walk away, remain silent, while maintaining your dignity
Remember that this person is still a creation of God. God loves him more than you can imagine and more than he is aware. This doesn’t mean you must like him or approve of his behavior, only that you treat him respectfully. It also means that you are not responsible for him Getting that he is a vampire. This is between him and his Creator.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2011

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