6 tips to manage your response to high conflict situations
I have a client who booked a couple of conflict coaching sessions to help her prepare for her mother's second wedding. She is really happy for her mother and really unhappy about the family members that she will have to engage with before and on the wedding day and she doesn't want this to potentially spoil her mother's big day.
Big family gatherings tend to distress us. Especially if there are unpleasant memories from recent events, or underlying events from our childhood that have not been resolved. We tend to regress in our responses, play out our dramas in roles that have been well established for many years and because we recognise the patterns and know the drama we get sucked into, we are on our guard in anticipation of the worst outcome of events.
We replay the past and anticipate future scenarios, - built on the past experiences and interactions with specific people - , in our minds again and again. This leads to more anxiety, greater distress and the more emotionally overwhelmed we become the greater the conviction of being powerless and the easier it is for us to fall back into old ways of responding.
My aim is to change the way people respond to conflict. To make people aware of new responses so they feel more empowered to create different outcomes for themselves instead of freezing, fighting or fleeing. My role is to make the scenarios in my client's head more realistic. Give real or imagined incidents the correct size and put them in the right place. Give people tools so that they can have the power to change how they play their role in the drama and manage their own emotions and reactions.
Emotional robustness and conflict management often don't come naturally, we need to prepare, consciously be mindful of changing our reactions and practise new responses consistently before they become second nature.
Here are a few strategies to help you stay centered during any gathering that you fear might derail your equilibrium and trigger old responses. You don't have to use all of them. Choose the ones that are easiest or the best fit and implement those.
1. Don't totalise
Even if an incident happens. Don't let that colour all interaction. Ring-fence the incident. Bring the incident and it's impact back to size. You are the only one who gives it power. Eliminate totalising language like "never, always".
2. Don't catastrophise
Refrain from making up stories in your head that may or may not happen. Don't give free reign to assumptions or what you believe other people's intentions are. Always ask yourself: "What am I assuming that might not be true, or might not happen?"
3. Practice your response if you get held hostage.
Acknowledge the past, express that you had a role in it, agree that a conversation needs to happen but also highlight a common shared goal for the weekend which is to make your mother's time really special.
4. Have safe people
Tell your safe people beforehand that you might need them and in what manner you would like them to either just be there for you, regulate your behaviour or protect you from yourself.
5. Take charge and set the tone for the interaction
Don't hide or evade. Walk up and greet first. If you prefer to do this with someone, ask that person to be with you to greet.
6.Create the version of events you want
Imagine how you would like it to be. How are people reacting/being/doing in your ideal version of the weekend.
If you would like to know more about any of these techniques or if you want to make sure you create new responses to conflict make an appointment for some personal conflict coaching sessions.