A client just called us to order 5,000 copies of a slender book I wrote years ago, called Resolving Conflict Sooner. He said that he wished he'd called sooner, before the sides had hardened between the people in his corporation. Now several squabbling people were proving themselves right about why the others were wrong. (Especially in times of conflict, we make negative assumptions about why others do what they do.)
I squirmed as he spoke as I immediately recognized how I was doing just that with a person who is near and dear to me. It is one thing to be an "expert" and write about dissolving conflict and it is quite another to practice what you preach. Have others of you found that to be true too?
So, here's some points from that book that my client had underlined when he first bought it. They may help you as they are guiding me back to a more positive path:
Perhaps one of your most vulnerable of moments is when someone is criticizing you. If she knows you well, and make her sharp comments in front of others, she can cut deep. The knowing scalpel of her words can be surgically rapid and close to the bone, more damaging than the rubber hammer of a stranger's passing slight. Yet, as the old saying goes, "What doesn't kill us can make us stronger."
Here's some specific ways to keep cool while under fire and even demonstrate the grace under pressure that pulls people closer:
Notice How People Show You Their “Operating Manual”
People are most revealing when offering praise or criticism. Praise indicates what they most like about themselves, and criticism often shows what they least like or feel least competent about in themselves, which means criticism is actually a two-way mirror. How can you respond to another's criticism with honesty and grace and actually gain new insights about yourself and the other person in the process?
First Recognize that You Are an Animal Under Attack
Whether you are with someone you love, hate, or just met, when you first realize you are being criticized, you react the same. Your heart beats faster, your skin temperature goes down, and you even lose peripheral vision. Because you feel under attack, your first instincts are to focus on that feeling, making it more intense. You then feel like withdrawing or retaliating. Just remember that with either instinctual response, you are saying, "I don't like your comments; therefore, I will give you more power."
Do Not Let Somebody Else Determine Your Behavior
Both fight and flight responses leave you with fewer options - not more - so attempt to do neither. When you focus on your feelings, you are distracted from hearing the content of the other person's comments, leaving you more likely to react rather than choosing how you want to act. Avoid a "face-off" of escalation of comments between the two of you.
Instead, imagine a triangle of three entities: the other person, you, and the topic of the criticism. Picture the two of you staring at the criticism, the third point in the triangle, to work through the comments, rather than staring each other down, where one person has to be wrong.
Look to Other People's Positive Intent, Especially When They Appear to Have None
You are your most disarming when you compliment someone else for taking the time to give you feedback. You take the wind out of their sails. The other person might even backtrack. Yet our first instincts are to look for the ways we are right and others are… less right. In responding to criticism, the momentum of defensive emotions builds fast.
Praise What You Want to Flourish
Why? Because we mentally focus on the smart, thoughtful, and "right" things we are doing, while obsessing about the dumb, thoughtless, and otherwise wrong things the other person is doing, leading us to take a superior or righteous position, get more rigid, and listen less as the criticism continues. Difficult as you might find it, try staying mindful of your worst side and the other person's best side as you engage in responding to the criticism.
Tomorrow, I'll add a few more tips from that book. Tammy Lenski provides some affirming and practice suggestions over at conflict zen.