“Treat your friends like you do your best pictures; place them in the best light.” ~Unknown
I recently had a disagreement with a close friend.
There was a good deal of uncontrolled emotion on my side. I wasn’t expressing myself well and I knew it. I became more and more frustrated and less effective at explaining my feelings.
I found myself laying unwarranted blame on my friend rather than admitting openly that something was hurting me and I was feeling vulnerable.
Ultimately, he said the words I was having trouble finding for me, and that resolved the situation.
I was embarrassed and grateful, but I realized I needed to evaluate a few of my shortcomings to avoid making the same mistake again.
I also realized that what I was feeling wasn’t the problem.
It was my inability to effectively convey what was in my heart and on my mind that led to hurt feelings and further misunderstanding.
After much self examination, I’ve come up with a few tips to communicate effectively during a conflict.
1. Think about whether this needs to be said right now, in this moment.
Sometimes the opportunity will be missed if not.
In my case, I felt I needed to bring the subject up right then or I might not have gotten the nerve again. I went for it, but it could have gone better if I’d waited to form a well organized idea of what I wanted to say.
2. Think about the other person’s state of mind.
Is he/she tired, under other stress, or not in an ideal place right now to have a heartfelt talk?
3. Consider if you have a good handle on your emotions.
Also, consider if you have the proper perspective to deal with the potential consequences.
Email, texts, and cell phone calls are not an ideal way to introduce the need to talk about something substantial.
4. Hold off on the confrontation if you feel the time is not right.
There is a marked difference in avoiding a hard topic and thoughtfully planning the ideal time to have a potentially difficult conversation.
5. Focus on breathing to help control your emotions.
If you begin a difficult conversation starting from a place of controlled emotion and grace, the path will be smoother.
6. Keep your perspective broad and realistic.
Don’t place too much importance on a single talk. Most of the progress in relationships comes from a series of discussions as they unravel naturally. Try and stay in the moment and minimize added drama by bringing up old or irrelevant issues.
7. Listen more than you talk.
It’s fine to be heard, but if you are not listening to the other’s response, the discussion is pointless.
8. Avoid adding unnecessary drama.
These things never help to fix a problem and ultimately bring more hurt to all involved. These include ultimatums, yelling, threatening to cut off the friendship, name calling, and personal attacks.
If it comes to that, walk away. Breathe, step back, and allow some time before you try again.
9. Focus on what the person is trying to communicate.
I’m often reminded as a parent to listen to my children’s words and not necessarily the emotion behind them. Emotions are fleeting, and rarely final. They are simply a temporary reaction to the current situation.
My three-year-old sometimes throws temper tantrums when she’s frustrated, but if I listen and respond to her words, it often diffuses her anger. Many times she is telling me she is not feeling heard as the youngest member of our family. I focus on the simple phrase, “Mommy! Listen to me!” Not her screaming voice and kicking feet.
10. Acknowledge the feelings.
If you acknowledge that someone is angry or hurt, you can better understand the sharp or harsh words that may be coming from them. You can choose to help them deal with their emotions or let them regain their composure to talk another time.
11. Take a realistic assessment of your true feelings in the moment.
I tend to distort and add unintended nuances to the words that others say when I am upset. This has caused me a great deal of distress in past conflicts. I am not on the wrong page, but in the wrong book sometimes metaphorically speaking.
After such experiences, I find the other person saying “How did you come to that conclusion from what I said?”
This is a classic example of our ability to inflict the worst hurts upon ourselves.
If I realize that I am upset and try to hear the words being said to me as they are, without my running mental commentary, things come across much clearer.
12. Clear the emotional fog enough to receive the message.
If you need to ask for clarification or even repeat what you think the other person is trying to say, so be it.
13. Know that most well established relationships can weather the occasional conflict just fine.
It can even be an opportunity to grow and evolve as you turn a new corner of understanding one another.
The friend I argued with is the best kind. He challenges me to broaden my perspective. He is relentless in keeping me from settling and expecting too little from life. He pushes me out of the nest over and over when I get too comfortable.
Don’t avoid expressing how you feel for the sake of preserving a friendship.
The foundation of all relationships is grounded on honesty and trust. It’s okay to show weakness, to be wrong, or to just plain melt down from time to time. Each person has something to give and something to learn. Conflict might be considered the way to pass along such knowledge.
I am fortunate my friend knew me well and was willing to give me space and offer forgiveness. The next time I have something to say, I will try to remember this and be more straightforward.
Every challenge with another is a chance to better our response. They give us the chance to practice patience, respect for others, detachment, and compassion. The added benefit is strengthening our relationships and our ability to communicate.