How to Pause in a Conflict to Build A Stronger Relationship
My passion is to help others build strong, deep relationships so they can have a happy life, and communicating well is instrumental to building relationships. However, even with the best intentions, innocuous conversations can sometimes feel heated or create miscommunications or misunderstandings. Before we know it, we can get fired up and say things we later regret or bottle up our emotions and remain frustrated, offended, or upset, further damaging our relationship.
It's easy to let our emotions get in the way of good communication from time to time. Have you ever received a piece of critical feedback and felt attacked, ashamed, judged, or unfairly mistreated? These natural reactions are understandable, I’ve felt them myself, but they don’t serve us. When we react in emotionally heightened states, our emotions get the best of us. I’ve learned to take a moment, to pause and assess my personal feelings and thoughts rather than react. Once I’ve let the emotion pass, I can dive into the conversation, build a stronger relationship, and grow personally and professionally.
“Between the stimulus and our response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Victor Frankl.
The more space we can provide ourselves between a stimulus and our response, the better we can communicate calmly and empathetically. It’s in these critical moments that you have the most significant opportunity to strengthen your relationships. Solving challenges and ensuring both parties feel heard, understood, and satisfied with the conversation is a skill that will serve you well in all avenues of life.
So how do you go from being triggered or misunderstood to building stronger relationships?
Quickly become aware of your body’s responses to help you identify and let the emotions pass rather than reacting to your body’s fight or flight instinct. Self-awareness and understanding are critical when your emotions have taken hold. I’ve created a morning routine that I call “time for me.” It includes meditation, focusing on getting present and how my body feels to help me build my self-awareness skills. Simple acts like concentrating on how it feels to have my morning tea run down my throat or the cold floor beneath my feet help me practice getting present. We’re always so busy these days running around on auto-pilot, similar to how you would drive to work and forgot how you got there. Our brain takes shortcuts to conserve energy, but shortcuts are not helpful when emotions are at play.
While I’m focusing on improving my awareness, I’m noticing how I feel but am careful not to judge it. Rather than judge yourself for having the emotion, focus on assessing if the feeling is positive, negative, or neutral; to better understand why you may be feeling this way, which typically goes back to personal beliefs, values, and biases.
So when you find yourself on the receiving end of critical feedback that feels a bit prickly, notice and assess your emotion to create the space you need to choose how to respond in a way that supports both yourself and the other party. I’m not asking you to accept all feedback blindly. I’m asking you to get comfortable in the present, feel the emotions as they wash through you, and pause before reacting.
Understand the feedback and why they shared it.
Once the emotion has passed, focus on better understanding what the other person is saying, needs, and expects, in addition to your own needs. Bottling up feelings and not responding can be just as damaging to a relationship as losing your cool in a conversation. So check your ego at the door and get curious. Two people will likely not see a situation from the same vantage point. Work to understand the feedback and the angle it’s coming from so that you can best assess how to move forward.
Be mindful of each other's needs and avoid creating an oppressive power dynamic. You see, if I focus on what I need at the expense of others, I’m pulling power to myself. Conversely, if I prioritize the other person’s needs over my own, the power dynamic is still alive and well. The goal is to create equal standing where we mutually respect and support one another needs.
Pause and ask yourself these questions:
- “Am I feeling frustrated because I care about this issue and don’t feel understood?”
- “Am I feeling upset because my idea has not been fully explored?”
- “Is my reaction driven from this event or related to the baggage I’m carrying from my past?”
Ensure you’re communicating from a place of empathy.
Remember that context is critical in these conversations. Each of us interacts with the world through our lens; our context and experience create how we naturally perceive and understand the world. As an immigrant to the U.S. and English being my third language, I’ve learned not to take phrases at “face value.” While I’ve been in the U.S. for over 25 years, I still find myself missing some of the language’s nuances, especially regarding cultural references, analogies, idioms, and slang, which has led to misunderstanding others and putting my foot in my mouth a time or two.
Work to understand what the other person needs from you and what you need from them. Understanding both parties’ needs helps you turn a possible conflict into an opportunity to build a deeper connection.
When looking to understand the other person’s needs better try these questions:
- “Tell me more about this issue and why it’s important to you?”
- “Would you mind starting over and sharing some background that led to the issue?”
- “What do you see that I may have missed?”
Aristotle puts it well when he wrote, “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” By following the steps above, I can better communicate with others and look beyond the actual words for deeper meaning, helping me turn possibly challenging conversations into opportunities to build stronger relationships.
I challenge you to do the same.
- Focus on being present for at least 10 minutes each morning to build your ability to get present quickly.
- Be aware and acknowledge your emotions before responding to any stimuli.
- Drop any ego - Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or happy?”
- Connect their needs and feelings as well as your needs and feelings.
- Start asking questions to validate their feelings with curiosity.
If communication becomes heated, which sometimes does, you can always call a break and give all parties space to chill, reflect, and then re-engage. Set another meeting to continue or take a bathroom break; these small respites of time will help everyone assess, refocus, and communicate, even when things get hard.
Share your tips for how you leverage your “pause” to strengthen your relationships in the comments below.