I’ve heard some great one-liners in my life that have driven me to the kind of laughter that makes my lungs ache. Brilliant observations by Chris Rock, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have made me burst into giggles that speed up, slow down, stop…and then pick right back up again, sometimes for days. But few lines made me giggle as long as the innocent observation made about me by a fellow Little League mom sitting next to me in the bleachers:
“With what you do for a living, I guess you never fight at home.”
Excuse me. I think I still need another minute to recover from that one.
Yes, I am a professional coach and facilitator who helps people and organizations communicate more effectively and improve their personal and professional relationships. So, one might assume that I am the Mistress of Interpersonal Communications and Queen of Human Relationships, keeping conflict at bay with my Superpowers: finely honed listening skills, profound curiosity, and genuine compassion for how people feel.
Yes, one might assume that. And one would be wrong. Dead wrong.
Sure, I know a thing or two about what makes people tick. I also know what makes the three other people who live in my house ticked off. And while I don’t actively try to stir up trouble, I can be as thoughtless, careless and reckless as the next gal. In my household of four people (plus an extended blended family both near and far) with diverse agendas, values, tastes, speeds, expectations, behaviors, concerns and desires, things get messy. Words get exchanged. Feelings get hurt. Desserts get denied.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how much I know about managing the mishegas. What matters is what I’m willing to actually do – especially when I’m feeling stressed or strained. A Jewish proverb coaches us: “Do not be wise in words, be wise in deeds.” Indeed, it is how we behave in times of anger, disappointment and frustration that show us – and those around us – our true colors.
Disputes, disagreements and differences of opinion are inevitable in any system. At the office, you might boil over at your colleague for filling the airspace in your cubical with his constant kvetching. At synagogue, you may get apoplectic with the parents who let their kids tear into the kiddush lunch before Shabbat services have let out. In your family, you might get irate with the sibling who never offers to host a meal or a holiday.
And if you’re like most, once you get burned, the other guy is toast.
My twins, Jacob and Sophie, take fighting to new heights – and lows. Everything is fair game as evidence for unfair treatment. From “I was watching that show!” to “You took the last 100 Calorie Pack!” to “Stop singing “California Girls!” to “Go into the bathroom if you’re going to do that!” (don’t ask). Their arguing is utterly ubiquitous, seemingly impervious to intervention, and extremely exhausting.
Nevertheless, their battles, and mine, are bound by home-grown ground rules that I call the “CHILL OUT” method. While this doesn’t guarantee shalom in the home or office, the “CHILL OUT” method can calm conflicts before they become calamities.
Curtain your counterattack. When an argument begins, avoid the temptation to divest someone of their good qualities, defame them to others, or get defensive.
Hold your tongue. Don’t respond when you are too emotional or too angry to control your words. If a behavior or situation has you really heated up, wait until you’ve calmed down a bit before you speak.
Interpret the other person’s behavior in a neutral or (if possible) positive way. When we assume why someone said or did something, we are drawing from our own bank of motives – not theirs. In anger, we attribute negative intentions to others’ actions. Start from a place of not assuming and not knowing – and be willing to ask the other person what was behind their behavior.
Listen. If you’ve tuned the other person out as soon as you’re in conflict, the disagreement won’t get resolved. Be willing to hear the other person’s point of view, and listen without judgment or predictions.
Legitimize the other person’s perspective. Your point of view AND their point of view can both be valid. Admit that – and see how far that generous approach can take you.
Offer solutions. Don’t just complain about the offending action, behavior or attitude. Make some constructive suggestions, and be open to theirs as well.
Understand when it’s time to take a break, call in a neutral third party, give it up, give in or get out of there.
Tend to your tone. Sarcasm, biting “humor”, condescension, disdain, being flip – all of these undermine your goal to resolve the issue at hand. The tenor of your voice can go a long way towards continued despair or the path to relationship repair.
Try the CHILL OUT technique and let me know how it works for you. Got a great method to share for how to fight fair? Share!
Here’s to keeping your cool when you’re ready to boil over.
Deborah Grayson Riegel is a certified coach, speaker and trainer who helps individuals, teams and organizations achieve personal and professional success through her high-energy workshops, presentations and one-on-one coaching. Visit her online at www.myjewishcoach.com or www.elevatedtraining.com.