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"Can't We All Just Get Along?!" (Managing Interpersonal Conflict)

Updated: Dec 31, 2023

One of the most common issues my clients face is interpersonal conflict. ‘Getting along with others’ is something we may think we should have learned in kindergarten, but the truth is that interpersonal skills are a delicate and complex art, often fraught with distress and challenge. So how can we navigate these choppy waters with confidence and grace? Through working with various mentors and teachers over the years, I have come across a few techniques that I have found to be useful in these realms:


(1)Drop into Wordlessness: When the behavior of another gets under our skin, a common human reaction is to go into explaining, complaining, or perhaps even verbal attack. We want the other person to ‘see the light’, to understand how they are wrong (and how we are right), to just STOP the problem behavior!! A powerful question to ask ourselves at such times is, “How well have these approaches worked?” If your experience has been anything like mine, you have likely found that the aforementioned stance only serves to aggravate and escalate the situation. While our verbal capacity is one of the incredible gifts of being human, it can be less than helpful when we are amped up and agitated toward the situation. Rather than launching into arguing mode (or ‘prove yourself right’ mode), it is helpful to remember that we have a choice in how we respond. We can choose to take a breath before reacting--tapping into the “Power of the Pause.” We can take the stance of “Neutral Observer”, stepping back from reactivity--and connecting with our wise, compassionate heart before taking any action. By practicing the Pause, we lengthen the space between stimulus and response, which provides us with the gift of choicefulness. This gives us a brief moment to connect with our Higher Self--and our Higher Power. We may decide, from this centered place, that a well-thought-out verbal response is indeed the best option--or not. The point is to give ourselves the space to drop out of the fast-moving, verbal, analytical mind and into the wise, compassionate, intuitive heart. It will not lead us astray. 

(2) Hold a Higher Vision: So often in life, we observe the circumstances in front of us and decide that they are not unfolding to our liking. Perhaps someone’s behavior is truly vexing us, and we feel our resentment and irritation building. (Perhaps that person is even ourselves!) At such times, it is useful, once again, to remember that we do have a choice in how we proceed. On the one hand, there is the old, familiar, well-trodden path that is available to us. Taking this path, we continue to see the person or situation as “flawed”, “difficult”, “the problem” (fill in the blank with your descriptor of choice)--and to respond as such. As we travel down this path, we tend to make the “other” wrong in our mind’s eye and to apply a lens of judgment, criticism, and resistance. This will likely initiate a cascading series of events that does not end well--and honestly feels pretty lousy. But there is another pathway available to us. Since it is less frequently traveled, it may not call out to us as loudly, but it is there. What if we chose to use this opportunity to “flip the script”? What if, instead of playing out the story of “what you don’t want” in your mind’s eye, you were to envision its exact opposite? To facilitate this process, I like to ask myself, “What is it that I do want here?” I then picture the best possible outcome I can imagine. I might see the other person responding calmly, lovingly, and from their highest and best self. I recognize the fact that relationships are dynamic co-creations, and that by shifting my own energy and vision about the situation, the dynamic can be transformed. If it sounds too simple (or too far-fetched!) to be true, I encourage you to give it a try. Hold a higher vision of the person, situation or whatever is triggering you--in spite of the glaring evidence to the contrary. You may be amazed at what unfolds when you open up space and possibility for change. As Wayne Dyer likes to say, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” I couldn’t agree more!

(3) Update Your Images: This is a beautiful technique that I learned from the dear departed Sanaya Roman. In a nutshell, it involves asking ourselves, “What kind of images and energy am I sending to this person (or situation)?” and “Do these images serve their highest good?” It is worth considering whether our images are helpful--or whether they may need some updating. Often we are unknowingly projecting negative or outdated images toward a person or situation, and this affects how they respond. For example, if you view your sister as “bossy”, “outspoken”, “selfish”, and “harsh”, is holding onto this image serving her (or you)? While it may be true that she has demonstrated evidence of these things in the past, we tend to develop tunnel vision and to “pigeon-hole” people by solely identifying them by their worst traits. People sense our negative assumptions and expectations about them, and the feedback loop of a self-fulfilling prophecy is set into motion. What we don’t often realize is that we can change the slide. Rather than continue to project the old, outdated, negative images of this person, we can begin sending out higher, more loving thoughts and pictures. Again, if it sounds too simple, I lovingly encourage you to try this process. I continue to be amazed at how a gentle shift in my own perspective and expectations can alchemize seemingly impossible situations. By updating our images, we empower the other--and we free ourselves from the grip of negative expectations and assumptions. What a beautiful gift.

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