Killing With Kindness – The Dos And Don’ts

Killing with kindness sounds fierce and contradictory. It’s like extinguishing a fire with a cool glass of mountain water or the flapping of a butterfly’s wings.

This approach to conflict is strong and grounded because it transmits your value as a human being and recognises the same in the other person. It recognises that we all have bad days, we all get angry and we all lash out in frustration, grief or irritation.

I love this strategy because it’s effect is so powerful. If you approach conflict with kindness, the receiver could feel empowered for the first time because they feel listened to. They could realise that not everybody is out to get them. They could see that kindness is an alternative to violence and aggression and that can change lives. The repercussions of kindness can ripple out across communities, countries and hopefully the world.

Kindness is more of a practice than a strategy. You need to first be aware of your emotional triggers and then realise when you are about to react in anger to the person with whom you are in conflict. Stepping back from your ego, and instead choosing to offer a gesture of kindness in the face of anger, is a strength that needs to be cultivated every day.

This blog post is about how you kill conflict with kindness and how to get it right. As always, you have multiple ways to engage in conflict and this is the least destructive of all.

What is kindness?

Kindness is putting into action the intention to treat everyone in a friendly way, despite your emotional reaction to them. It could mean doing something for somebody because you genuinely want them to benefit from this action and  knowing that you probably won’t benefit at all from it.

In conflict terms, you behave in a way that doesn’t so much placate the other person but makes conflict appear totally pointless because your reaction is actually benefitting them. Kindness is not a weakness. You are not allowing your boundaries to be trampled on in order to avoid conflict. Instead, you are showing the other person that you are not a threat and there is no need to act aggressively or violently.

Companies do this when you complain about their product. They may offer you vouchers or some other gesture that signifies that they recognise your complaint and that they are sorry that you are not happy. This happened recently, when I complained to a furniture company that the reclining chair they had supplied was unsuitable for my terminally ill father. I was desperate for them to change it quickly because I wanted my father to be comfortable in his last few months. My bitter complaints were met with little empathy until my parents received some flowers,  an apology and a refund. Legally, all they were required to reimburse the cost of the chair and to collect it, however, it’s hard to write a scathing review or take a complaint further after receiving their good will.

I’ve also seen poignant examples of this strategy as forms of peaceful protest. During a protest in the Mexican city of Oaxaca, an indigenous woman performed a traditional ritual of blessing and protection on a soldier sent to disband the protestors. There had been periods of violence between the two sides but this act of kindness instantly transformed the “enemy” into a human being, capable of feelings and compassion.

Offering kind words of understanding or an offering to make them see that you are not a threat is often irresistible. Robert Cialdini argues in his brilliant book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, that we are influenced by people that we like. This can include paying compliments, using friendly body language, being similar to you or attractive to you and simply being nice to you. It’s the same principle in conflict resolution and it’s why your approach is more persuasive if you argue in a polite and respectful manner.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for effectively implementing this response to conflict:

Know Yourself

Before being able to act kindly to your enemy, you need to recognise what triggers your emotional responses.Once you become aware of them, you have emotional options. You can stand back from your feelings and choose how you wish to respond, remembering that the other person might simply be having a bad day or it may just be your own perception of what’s going on that is the problem and not their behaviour.

Is This The Appropriate Response?

Sometimes kindness means allowing the person you are in conflict with to continue behaving as they are. This is particularly the case if their behaviour may irritate you but has no real detrimental effect on you or your interests. If, for example, you know your sister can’t resist turning into a control freak when it comes to organising a family lunch but is otherwise pleasant, is it really worth expressing your anger to her? The kindest and most effective way to deal with this may be to let her continue as she is. There is, after all the benefit that it means you do less work! However, if you need to physically defend yourself from an axe wielding maniac, a gesture of kindness may not protect you from harm. Take time to review your conflict considerations to answer this question.

Kindness Can Be Creative

Communicating constructively, acknowledging the emotions of the other person and expressing a will to cooperate are all active ways of being kind to the person you are in conflict with. There are hundreds of ways that you can demonstrate that you are not a threat to the other side. A smile is a great starting point, as is open body language, a gentle tone of voice and a willingness to listen. I recently managed to diffuse an argument with a friend by offering to share a chocolate bar with her. I took it out of my pocket, told her I knew how much she loved this brand, snapped it in two and we laughed over how silly our misunderstanding had been.

Be Sincere

This isn’t a technique to manipulate the emotions of the other person. It is genuinely meant to show the other person that there is no need for conflict, that you are capable of working things out in a reasonable and trustworthy way. If it appears to be manipulative or disingenuous, prepare for trust to be shattered and relationships to be badly damaged. It is likely to make conflict worse.

Don’t Worry If It Doesn’t Work

As with all strategies, it may not work. Kindness is a great strength in this context but it is sometimes seen as a weakness. If you feel that the other person has interpreted it in this way then reconsider what you are doing and how you are communicating it. Assertive communication allows you to show that you have boundaries that must not be disrespected but that you are also able to act with kindness. The great thing about this approach is that extending kindness to others benefits you too, irrespective of how the other reacts. It’s a less stressful, less toxic and less damaging to relate to others.

I can’t tell you how many times I fail to practice what I preach. It has taken me years of meditation and self-reflect to become slightly more aware of my patterns and behaviours and I still make mistakes. The important thing is that you recognise your failings and commit to putting them right.

As always, I’d love to know what you think about this. Please feel free to leave a comment!

Three Key Reasons Relationships End

Think about a time when you connected with somebody emotionally. Maybe it was a drunken conversation with somebody at a party with a person who you never saw again. Or perhaps it was the first time you saw the person you went on to marry. We can connect with somebody profoundly in a few moments or over a lifetime, creating the foundations of relationships that last for years.

Some of our relationships are short lived and are more practical in essence. For example, I wouldn’t say that I have an emotional bond with my builder but there is a sense of trust in his reliability to do a good job. With my close relatives and my best friends, I feel safe to express my vulnerabilities and to know that they will treat them with the respect, love and empathy that they deserves. Emotional connection is a mutual feeling that can inspire trust, well-being, joy, happiness, love and a range of more painful emotions when you see that person suffer.

When we enter into conflict with somebody, we are still in a relationship with them. We still think about them which can provoke a negative emotional response and we may even wish to take revenge on them for what they have done to us. A lot of this may be based on our perception of how people should behave in relationships but that doesn’t make the pain any easier to handle.

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The Reasons They End

This blog post is about the core reasons we end relationships. Knowing why relationships end can help you to put them to rest without causing destructive conflict. With this kind of clarity, you can accept that nothing lasts forever. Even the strongest relationships that seemed indestructible end when somebody dies or suffers illness. That’s just how life is. Here are the key reasons relationships end:

  • Trust has been damaged. When a person behaves in a way that doesn’t align with your values or it doesn’t conform with how you would have behaved, you lose trust in them. When somebody cheats on you in a romantic relationship, they broke a promise to you that they would be faithful to you which means that they are no longer reliable. It also signals to you that they have not taken care of the vulnerable , open part of you that loves them. It feels this way when relatives or friends let you down when you need them most. It makes you question your own judgment of people and whether you were wrong all along about their love for you.

Trust can be rebuilt, especially when somebody apologises or acknowledges their behaviour and how important their relationship is with you.

  • You don’t have the same values anymore. With some people, it doesn’t matter how much time passes without seeing them, you will always be connected because you share the same values. By that, I mean that you attribute importance to the same things. That might be family, work, your romantic relationships or your hobbies. It could also relate to values that you believe create a good relationship. You might value trust and honesty in a relationship above all else, whereas somebody else might feel that having the same attitude to money and stability is more important than faithfulness. As we grow and develop, our values may change and that’s when our relationships can end. I have lost friendships since my father passed away because during that difficult time, my values became much clearer to me.

  • You have become more assertive. I see this a lot with divorcing couples. The roles that we take in relationships may have been inherited from our parents. One may be more willing to sacrifice their needs for the other, irrespective of the reason, and to accept behaviour which is not respectful of their partners needs and wishes. When you become aware of your needs and the effect it has on you when they are neglected, you start to assert yourself more. This can be uncomfortable and even, unacceptable to the other person. That’s when the cracks in your bond start to develop and break. With personal growth comes the ending of that which doesn’t serve you and the start of that which does.
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You might be able to think of several other reasons but in general, they fall into those categories.

Curtailing Conflict

The way that you end a relationship could impact your mental health and emotional well-being by leading to intense conflict. This doesn’t end your relationship, it continues until you can detach yourself from that bond.

If you can identify the reason your relationship has ended, you can communicate that to your partner in a constructive and clear manner, either in writing or in person. The end of any relationship , no matter how significant, can throw up feelings of rejection, betrayal, unworthiness and a whole raft of other needs that are left unfulfilled. This is why destructive conflict such as insulting the other person or ignoring them can make matters worse.

As always, I’d love to read your thoughts and comments!

A Guide To Constructively Confronting Racist Or Sexist Comments

I remember being a student and spending the day in Richmond with my two best friends, all three of us of Italian origin. We walked into a pub at the end of a long day and whilst we were chatting away in Italian, we didn’t notice the frosty atmosphere or the slightly aggressive antics of the people drinking there. In the bathroom, my friend was mid-sentence when a woman starting shouting at us. “Did you come here to have a baby and get a council flat? Or was it to steal our jobs?”. I felt confused. I was born and raised here. I am British as well as Italian and I’ve never thought of myself as being an intruder in this country. I looked at my friends to see if they understood what was happening. Didn’t she know that we were law students who hadn’t really thought about procreating yet?

Fast forward to 2019, and the confusion has lessened, however, it angers me to think that colleagues and clients have unashamedly insulted Italians in front of me and meant it seriously. It infuriates me that I have had to work twice as hard as my male colleagues to earn their trust that my advice is “good enough”. I’ve lost count of the times I have had to ignore or confront sexist comments, set somebody straight about the kind of client entertaining I will participate in or be criticised for being too “difficult” or “aggressive” (translation: assertive).

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I know I am not alone in this. I know other women and ethnic minorities experience these feelings of exclusion and subordination on a daily basis. You just have to look at the various reports about the pay gap to know this.  

I have felt undervalued, unappreciated and overlooked as a woman, despite years of self-development and learning the politics needed to survive in a male dominated work environment. Luckily for me, my self-esteem has elevated to a level where I don’t need anybody’s approval but my own. Take me or leave me, it really makes no difference.

I wish though, that somebody had told me how to approach those comments constructively. My tendency was to respond with anger or to stay silent, for fear of repercussions or for fear of being labelled a troublemaker.  

This blog post is about empowering you with the tools to confront unacceptable comments in a way which does not lead to destructive conflict. The thing with prejudice is that the intention is to take away your power. It allows the person making the comment to feel superior.  The way you respond will signify your boundaries and self -respect. Make no mistake, these types of comments are wrong and should not be made but you can’t control what others say or how they behave. You can, however, choose how you respond to it. That’s a powerful way to relate to others.

Tips On Responding Constructively

If somebody makes a racist, sexist or any other kind of comment indicating prejudice, here are some tips for dealing with them in a way that helps you maintain the upper hand.

Notice How It Makes You Feel

No matter how damaging the comments or actions are, recognise what you feel about them. I know how angry I have felt and sometimes how hopeless I have felt about prejudice. Repressing it with silence doesn’t make it go away, it only fuels it. Get some distance from the person to help you do this.

What Confrontation Will Do For You?

Will responding to the comments benefit you and if so how? One benefit could be to show somebody that you feel disrespected and that you will not accept this treatment. It could also benefit you by setting standards within the team you work in or with a client. As a manager, being able to have difficult conversations about sensitive matters such as this is a requirement of leadership and stamping out inappropriate comments made by your team members is essential. If you can’t do this, then why are you managing people? Personally, it’s a matter of principle to stand up against prejudice and doing so helps me maintain my self-worth and integrity.

 Is it Ok to Do Nothing?

Yes! It is often a viable option in any conflict when responding will not benefit you at all. Take the woman shouting at me in the pub bathroom. I felt so shocked by her tirade that I could do little else except look confused. In hindsight, perhaps this was unintentionally, the best response I could have given at the time. She clearly wanted to engage with me and left the room when I didn’t.  Confronting her about her ignorance would not have achieved much. I still felt a range of emotions about this experience but in practical terms, what could have been achieved in this scenario?

It’s different, however, if you feel the impact of prejudice will disadvantage you professionally or from an emotional and mental health perspective. I would always advise taking actions to assert your boundaries and integrity when people in power treat you badly because of your physical attributes or your identity.

If you work in an environment where you feel that nothing you do will change the attitudes of your colleagues, maybe it’s best to address it by finding a different job with a company that does value your skills and is sincerely committed to ensuring diversity and inclusion. Don’t forget, you have employment rights and you might also want to take advice from a free service such as ACAS.

How To Respond

I would always advise that you respond when you are calm enough to think clearly. That’s not easy when somebody makes a racist or sexist comment. The humiliation can lead to anger, quite quickly. Thinking what to do in the moment is usually very difficult but here are some of the most constructive and professional ways to respond:

“I feel offended by the racist comments directed against me. Please could you refrain from making those comments in the future.”

“Please could you use gender neutral language as I feel undermined by the term “darling/ sweetheart etc.”

“I do not feel comfortable with that word in this context. Please could you use the word [ ] instead.”

“Those types of comments have no place in this office and I feel very disrespected when I hear any form of racist / sexist/ homophobic remarks.”

“I deserve the same respect as everybody else in this office so please do not roll your eyes when I am talking in a meeting.” (That one I used quite recently!)

“I have already told you that I feel offended by your comments / behaviour and if you continue, I will discuss this further with [ ] “

Stating your need for respect and dignity in a polite and respectful way shows that you choose to respond in a way that is professional and strong.

You should also consider responding by documenting what was said or done and keeping a log of it and if necessary, using it to take matters further if they do not stop.

If you are a manager and you hear offensive comments or witness offensive behaviour, your confrontation will set an example to others and it will communicate that this is not to be tolerated. That’s crucial in tackling workplace prejudice.

As always, I’d love to read your comments, thoughts and views. Do you agree with my view? If not, let me know why !

The Three Things We All Want To Achieve by Resolving Conflict

You might want different things from the resolution of a conflict. It could range from a financial settlement to just being able to look at the other person and have a face to face, open and frank discussion about what happened and why. It’s a question that people ask during conflict and sometimes, get the answer. Sometimes, they don’t.

Thinking about many of my clients, they often wanted the other party to do things which the courts cannot order. You can’t order somebody to apologise and neither can you make them understand your pain, however deep it may have run.

Understanding early on what you want to achieve out of resolving conflict, will help you to identify the best way of doing it. If you just want to collect a debt, then legal action may be the better option, as well as direct negotiation. Sometimes, we want a combination of things. You might want a debt paid but also recognition of the financial hardship this put you in. That’s where mediation might help.

You might also want revenge and so punishment could be an objective. Think carefully about whether you really want this or whether this is an expression of the pain you have suffered. If you can punish the other person, what will this look like and will it satisfy you?

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What Conflict Does To Us

The list of possible emotional reactions to conflict is endless. You might even relish conflict, as I do when I am analysing arguments and thinking about the best way to communicate or approach the situation. For me, the joy of conflict is seeing a client feel empowered by using skills that we all have, to voice our emotions, desires, needs and interests. By doing this in a constructive and considered way which rises above the turmoil of our emotions, you really are powerful. For many of us, including myself, that’s a work in progress!

I don’t always feel that way about conflict. It can make me feel vulnerable, humiliated, sad, exhausted, unacknowledged, betrayed, disconnected, anxious and a myriad of other feelings.  Conflict can impact self-esteem and arouse feelings of anger. It seeps out into every aspect of our lives and our relationships with others. Most of the time, we don’t even realise what the conflict has done and we can’t pinpoint those deeper emotions that might be linked to childhood experiences.

These types of responses are normal, regardless of the type of conflict. Looking into a conflict from the outside, I might be surprised at the intensity of emotion between the parties over something which seems trivial, but to the parties, the conflict has tapped into something deeply personal to them.

What We Really Want To Achieve By Resolving Conflict

Irrespective of the type of conflict, there may be several conflict resolution goals that you wish to achieve. Here are three of the most common:  

Acknowledgment

We all need to feel acknowledged and this is especially true when resolving conflict. By this, I mean that our feelings need to be recognised when we have been hurt.

The need to punish somebody is related to a need for them to acknowledge what they have done to you. You may wish to see them humiliated and defeated, feeling exactly what you felt. If this is what you want, you probably feel quite angry about the conflict. We can acknowledge each other’s pain and suffering with empathy and by saying something like, “ I can see that you feel angry and hurt because of my actions [state exactly what you did] and I promise you that I will not do this again.”  Before you do this, take time to acknowledge your own emotional response.

A Remedy

This can take the form of compensation, replacing something that was lost, destroyed or taken or it could mean resuming or terminating a relationship once and for all. In short, it puts the conflict to rest both practically and emotionally by satisfying your needs and interests.

A Discussion

Some people like the silent treatment because it can be a powerful way to undermine another person. It doesn’t, however, allow you to voice your suffering or your aims. It can also be used as a way of avoiding conflict.

Even if a full-blown mediation is not an option, what often helps to put matters to rest is to have a constructive conversation about how you feel. Many of us want to ask why they did what they did. Others want to tell the other person that they don’t feel hurt or angry and they do not want any form of reconciliation.

It doesn’t even need to be a discussion. I recently listened to a song about an argument the singer had with a friend. He wished he could understand why they were strangers after years of friendship, and how much they had lost during the time they hadn’t been in contact.  If you aren’t that creative, letter writing is also helpful in making sense of what you need and feel. Even if you don’t send it, it really helps to write to the other person and tell them what you wish you could in person. This certainly helps with perspective and could be all you really need to move on.

Hopefully, this blog post will help you take a step back from the emotion of conflict, take a deep breath and ask yourself what you really want from it. You have the choice to decide and the ability to transform it into something that can help you grow from it.

As usual, let me know what you think by leaving a comment below!

32 Questions To Help You See Conflict From The Other Side’s Point Of View

Whether you like it or not, there are always two, maybe even more, sides to a story. It’s the same with conflict. What I may feel offended or disrespected by, may have no effect whatsoever on somebody else. This is as much down to our experience of the world, as our values, needs and culture.

It’s also about how we perceive the causes of conflict and why people behave as they do. Nothing better illustrates this than the series Top Boy, the story of a gang of drug dealers from a council estate in East London. The violence and wasted, young life is something that we see both in this series and also in newspapers, every day.

The characters in Top Boy illustrate the underlying causes behind the violence. Social exclusion, communities living in crisis without the support of balanced, functioning family members or local services. With children navigating through social problems such as parents with addictions, domestic abuse and intense poverty, it’s no wonder that the anger they feel about this drives them towards criminality. We all need to belong and feel safe and the series shows how these vulnerable young people satisfy that need by forming gangs with others from the same background. Using this as an incentive, it’s easy to recruit abandoned teenagers who haven’t yet learned that they could choose a different life. It’s this kind of insight that helps us develop empathy and to approach conflict with more understanding.

We usually see conflict in black and white. We say things like, “they did this because they are evil/stupid/idiots/ etc.” This allows us to keep up the illusion that we are right and have acted correctly which helps to maintain our self-esteem. We often don’t stop to ask what made the other person behave in this way because we tend to focus on our own suffering. Creating an emotional wall against the other person in the conflict means that we don’t have to examine our own role or acknowledge that the other person might also be right or in pain.

Getting Some Perspective

Seeing it from the other person’s perspective is not easy. I still struggle with this in my own conflicts. What helps to ease anger about what might have caused them, including my own role in it, is to gain some perspective.

There’s no blame involved in this way of rationalising, it’s just about understanding that humans are flawed and vulnerable and when emotions run high, our perceptions of conflict are rarely based on reality.

Asking yourself the right questions can help you understand the other person’s point of view. I also think it’s helpful to ask a friend who isn’t afraid to be honest , to work through the following thirty-two questions with you.

Questions To Ask Yourself

  1. How does the conflict make me feel?
  2. What do I think they meant to achieve by saying / doing what they did?
  3. How might they have felt when they said/ did this?
  4. What might they have been thinking?
  5. What was their intention?

Your answer at this stage, may be something along the lines of “I feel angry, they probably don’t have feelings and they obviously intended to hurt me.” This is normal! The next set of questions will help you drill down on your views and to test them further.

  1. How do I know this to be true?
  2. What proof do I have of their intentions?
  3. How can I be sure they were feeling this/ they have no feelings?
  4. Did they behave this way before the conflict?
  5. Am I sure that my conclusion is correct?
  6. What else could they be feelings?
  7. What else could have been their intention?
  8. If they intended to hurt me, why choose this way of doing it?
  9. Do their actions really correspond with my perception?
  10. How did my actions contribute?
  11. What might they be feeling about my actions / words?
  12. Could I have behaved differently and if so, would this have changed the conflict?
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One good reason to put yourself in the position of the other party is to understand how you could persuade them to resolve the conflict and which solutions might work, by asking the following:

  1. Which of their interests are affected by this conflict?
  2. Who else is affected by this conflict?
  3. What might be influencing their view of my actions?
  4. Could their family situation, background or culture be influencing how they approach conflict?
  5. What are they trying to protect?
  6. Who are they trying to protect?
  7. What effect on me and them will this conflict have in a year’s time?
  8. What is the worst thing that could happen if the conflict continues?
  9. What is the best thing that could come out of this conflict?
  10. What are we both willing to lose?
  11. What would it be like to live without this conflict?
  12. How would it feel to live without this conflict?
  13. What could you both do with your time and energy if you weren’t in conflict?
  14. How would it feel for this conflict to be over, for other people affected by it?
  15. In what ways is your perception of this conflict similar to the other person’s?
  16. In what ways are they different?

I can guarantee that both you and the other side have an ego, you both have almost identical needs and you both have emotions (unless you’re dealing with a narcissist!). The best antidote to conflict is empathy, which breaks down those emotional walls and connects you to the other person. You can only do that once you accept your own role and you examine your own behaviour in an an authentic way that commits to self-accountability.

Looking at conflict from the other person’s perspective is also useful in negotiation. It helps you to understand what they might argue, what might be persuasive to them and which interests you can tap into.

I’d love to read any more questions you think would be useful or any other comments about perspective. Feel free to leave a comment, like and share!

How to Let Go Of Revenge And Manage Conflict Better

It’s hard to imagine forgiving a person who has imprisoned you, deprived you of your humanity and killed your family. That’s exactly what Dr. Edith Eger, a Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz did.  In her book, The Choice, she described her harrowing account of life and death in several concentration camps and how she came to terms with the trauma of her suffering following liberation. Whilst many people naturally felt the need for revenge against the Nazis, she wanted instead to teach people not to hate others. Although she felt intense anger for the losses she grieved, her experience led her to find ways to choose how we see our lives and those events which affect us emotionally.  

We all experience anger and revenge when we feel that we have suffered wrongdoing. This is a normal response to conflict because it is so related to loss. Our fury could manifest as a passive-aggressive response to a co-worker we have argued with; a desire to harm the partner who has asked for a divorce; or a more aggressive way of relating to other people when we have suffered abuse or neglect as children. Underlying the need for revenge is anger. Underneath that feeling is pain.

This blog post is about choosing forgiveness over revenge as a conflict resolution strategy. Wanting to punish the person you are in conflict with has devastating effects not only on you but the people you love, care about or just interact with.

 It’s astonishing that forgiveness can follow such an horrific abuse of humanity but it’s also testament to the weight and hardship of carrying the burden of revenge, shame and guilt. The only antidote to that is forgiveness. As Dr. Eger says, we can choose whether we blame ourselves and others for what has happened, or we could choose to view what has happened to us differently; as an opportunity to change our behaviour, to learn from it and to grow. You can’t change what has happened, but you can change how you view it and react to it in the future.

Where To Start

As always, start with yourself. Acknowledge your emotions. You can do that by writing them down, crying, screaming, meditating on them or just talking to a friend or counselor about them.  That might be difficult at first because we are not always aware of what we feel or have the vocabulary to label them. If you can’t pinpoint them, then identity the physical sensations that you might feel. For example, my throat tightens when I feel vulnerable and anger feels like a tensing of my jaw and chest.

None of your emotions are good or bad, wrong or right, despite what we have been taught. They are just feelings, reactions, sensations and temporary experiences of the world we live in. They cannot be controlled or repressed.  All you can control is how you behave towards others when you are feeling their intensity.

Tips

Once you have done that, here are some more ways to turn revenge into forgiveness:

  • Get some distance from the conflict. It may take some time for strong emotions to calm enough to talk through conflict resolution. A mediator is trained to help you do that but if you don’t want to take that step yet, approach the other person when you are calm enough to behave at least with politeness and respect. If you find yourself in that struggling with that, here are some ways to manage your anger.
  • Understand that revenge is not a constructive conflict resolution. Machiavelli would disagree and for practical reasons, advise you to kill your enemies so that they don’t pose any further problems to you. However, it’s 2019 and you are probably not a psychotic killer! Revenge and trauma are similar in that they are both passed onto others, sometimes for generations. In that sense, it extends the cycle of conflict rather than putting it to rest.
  • Realise that carrying anger and seeking revenge consumes your energy and your time. It can stop you from living your life in an expansive, liberated way and instead, it focuses your attention on punishing others. That emotional response spills out into other areas of your life and often clouds your decision making.
  • Know that you have a choice. You can either continue to blame others for the conflict or you can take responsibility for your own role in it (no matter how minor) and move on. I am not suggesting that you blame yourself for acts of neglect or abuse you have suffered at the hands of others. It is, however, your responsibility to review your own response to it in the present moment and to be realistic about how it is affecting your life. Are you choosing to continue the conflict or are you wiling to come to terms with what has happened and find a way forward for your own benefit?
  • Use empathy and honesty to help ease yourself away from the need for revenge. Yes, you have suffered, and it is essential to give yourself the understanding and space to respect that. You could also extend that to the other person when you are ready to. Are you able to understand the conflict from their perspective? Could pain and suffering have led them to behave as they have done towards you?
  • Ask yourself, is it worth it? How is this conflict affecting the people that you love including yourself? Will revenge hurt them more? Will your relationships suffer and if so, how will this affect you? These are the kind of conflict considerations you should think about before and during any conflict.

If you feel the need for revenge, the main question you should be asking yourself is why. How will this benefit you? If, underlying that aim is the need for the other person to acknowledge your suffering then a constructive conversation could be the way forward. It could even lead to forgiveness.

None of this is easy. It takes time to get to this realisation but hopefully, this blog post will move you further along that path.

As always, I would love to read your stories of revenge or forgiveness or any other comments of tips you may have. Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments box below!

3 Reasons You Aren’t Asking For What You Want

In this two- part blog post, I’ll be writing about the things that hold us back from asking for what we want. The second part will focus on ways to ask for what you want without it leading to conflict or ill-feeling. I’ve struggled with this and I’m sure that you have too.

It’s no surprise, we all find it difficult to ask for what we want. Even if you believe yourself to be confident, articulate and assertive, there may be areas in your life or people who, for some reason, throw psychological obstacles into your way. It’s probably not even their intention to do so. Instead, it could be about your own upbringing, your cultural practices or gender assumptions.

This post is inspired by a friend of mine. She’s a creative, accomplished and intelligent woman who was negotiating her way out of her employment contract. Although she had a pretty cast iron claim for unfair dismissal, she was hesitant to start negotiations with a settlement proposal that might “upset” her employer. It’s a story I have lived and heard several times over and certainly don’t want to repeat it or hear it again! She was brave enough to push past her discomfort and settled for much more than she believed possible. Not only did she come away with a generous settlement but a sense of personal achievement. What a great result!

I’m not advocating being impolite or disrespectful to your negotiating partner. You’re more likely to encourage cooperation from the other side if you communicate politely. What I hope to inspire in you, is a commitment to ask for what you want without being deterred by your feelings of shame around that. The first step in this process is to become aware of what is holding you back.

Why aren’t you asking for what you want?

  • You might fear your own vulnerability. Asking for what you want can be perceived as a sign of weakness. I don’t believe it is but for some people, the idea of needing somebody to help them or expressing that you are lacking something in your life, may symbolise an imperfection, a defect or a failure in some way.  This can feel shameful or embarrassing.
  • You don’t want to upset anyone. What you really mean by this is that asking for what you want will be perceived as being so outrageous that the other side will instantly disapprove of you. This will be uncomfortable or even painful, because being disapproved of is ultimately, a rejection of who you are. I used to feel this way because society, my culture and to a certain degree, my upbringing, taught me that nice girls don’t ask for what they want. Only bad girls, who are aggressive and therefore undesirable, do this. I was unconsciously taught that my value as a woman is linked to being satisfied with what I was given and not being too demanding of the men in my life. Imagine how that played out working in a male dominated industry!
  • You feel undeserving of receiving what you want. That’s a question of self-worth and it’s also entwined with the idea that nice/ good/ acceptable people don’t behave in this way.  You may not feel comfortable asking your partner for more intimacy because you automatically believe you will be rejected. This could be linked to a perception that you are undeserving of love. You may resist pushing for a promotion or applying for that job that you really want because you don’t think you are good enough. In other words, because of a conditioned belief that you are undeserving of acceptance, love and happiness, you don’t ask for it for fear of automatic rejection.
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Facing some of these reasons is extremely hard. They make you to dig deep and examine some painful realisations. It requires self-compassion and empathy towards your own emotions. You don’t have to do this. You can continue comfortably, as you are.

One thing is for sure, if you don’t start asking for what you want, you will carry on feeling unacknowledged and unappreciated. You can change jobs, partners or friends as many times as you want to avoid this but unless you change your inner beliefs and patterns, you will continue to make the same mistakes. This can impact mental well-being, self-esteem and ultimately, it could lead to conflict.

Everyone deserves to be happy and fulfilled and this is what every human being wants. We all want more connection with others and to have our needs met. This transcends cultures, genders, financial status and background. There is nothing more powerful than understanding who you are, why you behave as you do and what has unknowingly influenced the way you see yourself and others.

If you are still worried about communicating what you want, read my next blog post for tips, tricks and phrases to help you do exactly that.

As always, I’d love to read your thoughts and comments !

3 Reasons Why Calling An offer “Final” Could Undermine Any Negotiation

In negotiations, it’s often tempting to show strength by saying something early on, like “this is my final offer”. It’s supposed to emphasise that you won’t take any nonsense, you are fed up with the way things are going or that your position is so strong, you can afford to let the opportunity to settle go.

In a recent case I was handling, a trainee solicitor acting for the other side insisted that their first offer was final. It was an abysmally, insulting ‘offer’ which did nothing but insult us. We carried on with legal proceedings. Later on, following a short, unsuccessful mediation, another “final” offer was sent to me. It had barely improved from the last. A further two “final” offers were made. You probably get the point I’m making: if you say an offer is final, it roughly translates as “take it or leave it.”

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Here’s why you should resist using this term:

  • You will back yourself into a corner by calling an offer final. Instead of offering more opportunity to discuss potential settlement ideas, you are indicating that you will be making no further offers. Either your opponent accepts it or negotiations are terminated. Before taking this step, you need to consider what the alternative is to negotiation. If it’s litigation, then think about the costs, time, resources and stress of it. If it’s maintaining an unsatisfactory status quo, how will this benefit you? A key conflict consideration to always keep in mind is the benefit to you of taking certain actions, whether that’s walking away, ignoring or attempting to settle.
  • Labelling an offer “final” is intended to show strength but instead, it can make you look inexperienced and disrespectful.  Negotiators sometimes use this term at the outset to indicate that not only are they strong but that they will not take any nonsense. That’s problematic if I know that my opponent is negotiating because it’s not in their interests to litigate! In any case, skilful negotiators can always persuade their opponent to consider another offer by reframing it differently, using empathy or if you see that somebody is losing patience or feeling impatient, take a break.
  • Negotiation is a process. The exchange of offers to settle is really a way of communicating preferences. You should always be prepared with a range of values that you would be settle at and of course, when you will walk away. Usually, that’s when the benefits of doing so outweigh staying. If you receive a first offer which is below that range, remember that this is normal! It may look insulting (and sometime, it is intended as such!) but in general, your opponent will be checking to see what your reaction is to it. We never really know what is acceptable until we test it and sometimes, the results can be surprising. If you feel that the offers and counter-offers made are not taking you any closer to settlement, it’s a sign that something else needs to be communicated or that you need distance to re-think your strategy or the information that should be disclosed. Can you sweeten the deal with something? Have you identified correctly,  your opponent’s interests and are you really attempting to satisfy them? Clearly, if you still feel it is not getting you anywhere, why not tell your opponent this politely and respectfully? It could actually help you build trust!
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Negotiation isn’t always about complex deals which attempt to satisfy diverse interests and stakeholders. However, it is an interaction between people in a relationship with each other involving communication. That requires a certain level of trust to reassure each other that information may be handled sensitively and that you have faith in each other that you will act with integrity and honesty. The real danger of labeling an offer final is that you don’t really mean it. This undermines your image, it puts you in a weaker position and could damage trust. Think carefully before you do that!

As always, I’d love to know what you think about this!

Arguing Politely: How to Get the Best Out of Your Negotiation Partner

I watched a political debate recently and felt drained by the experience. Six educated, grownups were reduced to squabbling children over an issue that has polarised the nation.  They were speaking over each other, interrupting, arrogantly enforcing their view and asking questions that had been framed in a way to reveal the other as a stupid.

This post is about using politeness, respect and empathy as the cornerstone of your negotiation skills. It’s also a reminder that negotiation is a discourse between parties with different interests and positions, the aim of which is to come to a mutually agreeable solution. If you can’t treat the other side with respect, how can you expect to achieve anything of the sort?

This principle will help you negotiate multi-million-dollar deals and it will also help you resolve disputes with a neighbour, partner, friend or child. It forms the basis of our interactions but sadly, it gets easily lost in the heat of our emotions.

What is Politeness?

In a negotiation context, politeness has a few elements to it:

  • Greeting somebody with respect and introducing yourself courteously;
  • Using language which is appropriate to the setting e.g. saying thank you, please, using clean and professional language;
  • Using tact and carefully phrasing your agreement or disagreement in such way that the other does not feel offended;
  • Acknowledging the other person and allowing their opinions and views without interrupting them, undermining them or humiliating them;
  • Being humble and winning or losing gracefully;
  • Using empathy and respecting boundaries such as confidentiality;
  • Understanding and adopting body language which is non-threatening or aggressive.

Why is this important?

I often correspond with lawyers who are poorly trained in communication. They believe mistakenly, that dominating, aggressive language will make the other party yield. It usually doesn’t work. Any negotiator who attempts this looks immature, unprofessional and insulting. This lessens the chance of cooperation and can be disastrous if the other party walks away. Even dressing up an offer as “final” can appear arrogant if the timing of it is wrong (usually, a first offer!)

Politeness is good for your image, your reputation and it can pave the way to a future relationship. This is extremely important if you may need this person after the negotiation or you both work within the same industry. You never know when you might need a favour!

Polite negotiators also appear more professional and are more persuasive. In his brilliant book, The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini cites being “nice” as a highly effective tool in influencing somebody to do something. Salespeople employ this technique regularly. They might stop you in the street with a smile, a friendly greeting or a compliment. I certainly have been sucked in by a cheery salesperson and strangely, find it hard to say no, even knowing that this is a technique. I am sure you have too!

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Tips

If you are reading this, you probably know the basics of politeness. However, in conflictual situations, your emotions might take over. This is normal and natural but here are a few techniques to help you whilst negotiating.

  • Preparation is key. Know your arguments, anticipate responses and figure out what you will and won’t disclose to the other party.
  • What, in the negotiation or your arguments are your weak points? Think about this before and work out what you will say if the other party brings them up. Don’t be afraid to say something like, “I appreciate your curiosity but I don’t have that information available to me at the moment.”
  • Always remember the basics of politeness: no insults, no prejudice, no interruptions, please/ thank you and appropriately friendly body language. Try not to raise your voice or use aggressive, obnoxious or arrogant language. You should also be aware of your tone.
  • If you feel yourself getting angry or frustrated (or in any other way, emotionally overwhelmed), take a break. I am often aware of my opponent’s emotional reaction and if I see that it’s getting in the way of constructive communication, I’ll ask for a break or I’ll request to pause discussions so that we can summarise or take stock of the discussion so far.
  • Be assertive. That’s totally different to being aggressive and will ensure that you express your needs and interests constructively, without being walked over by the other side.
  • Mind your questions. The intention is to gain greater understanding and to try to grasp what is important to the other party in terms of a resolution. It’s not a cross-examination or a way of poking at the wounds of the other person.

You can never be sure what will happen during any argument, negotiation or mediation but you can think about how you will deal with difficult points. Being respectful about the other party’s view will ensure that you create the best conditions to negotiate in and you minimise conflict.

This doesn’t just apply to negotiation, it applies to the discussions you have with your partner, friends or relatives and hopefully, our politicians might learn something from this blog post too.

The Power of Non-Violent Protest and How It Topples Tyrants

Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament has provoked an unprecedented push back from politicians and the public. This move has been justified by Boris Johnson’s cabinet, as a normal political move that we see every year in the Autumn before the Queen’s speech. He has also justified it by saying that he wants to focus on funding the NHS and other domestic issues but has made no comment about its extraordinary length of time.

Parliament will be suspended for five weeks and will re-open on 14th October. This leaves very little time for MPs to debate how we leave the EU on 31st October.  Critics of this move have cited Dominic Raab’s comments in June, that suspending Parliament would be one way to leave the EU without an agreement. Boris Johnson had also refused to rule this out as an option.

It’s certainly convenient timing. Even during World War II, both Houses of Parliament continued to assemble in Church House despite Westminster having been bombed.

This blog post isn’t about the pros and cons of how we leave the EU. It’s about how we can oppose politicians that abuse our freedoms and rights. It’s about the real meaning of democracy, who really is in power and how we can exercise our freedom to object, without violence. Peaceful conflict in society often leads to change and this blog explains how.

One of my favourite Ted Talks!

What is Non-Violent Protest?

Gene Sharp’s theory of power and protest revolves around consent. Our political leaders are able to rule because we have consented through elections, for them to have this power. Consent is also expressed when we obey their laws.

Non-violent action is the withdrawal of our consent. It sends a clear message to our government that we will not obey those laws, practices or initiatives that threaten our rights.

It’s a simple concept and one which must take into consideration how conditioned we are to obey people in authority. We learn to respect and obey those in power as children and several experiments have demonstrated that even when we believe laws and orders are immoral, when given by somebody in authority, we usually obey them. This has nothing to do with our background or education.  Power and obedience are crucially linked.

Examples of Non-Violent Protest

There are countless examples of people disobeying laws in non-violent ways. Here are just a few of the most inspiring.

Rosa Parks, an African American civil rights activist, was arrested after she refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger in Alabama during segregation. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted for 381 days. African Americans refused to use the buses and the boycott ended with a Supreme Court ruling outlawing segregated buses. Those who had coordinated the boycott, formed The Montgomery Improvement Association under the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.

In Guatemala, a group of seven friends organised a protest in 2015 against President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. In response to a UN report documenting political corruption and links to organised crimes, a protest was arranged on Facebook and drew support from tens of thousands of people across the country. The invitation to attend the protest was spread using the twitter hashtag #RenunciaYa. This non-violent protest led to the imprisonment of Baldetti and Molina and the fall of the government.

Estonia achieved independence from Soviet rule by uniting through nationalist singing. In 1988, a song festival led to open calls for independence. Gatherings of Estonians usually involved singing folk and nationalist songs, in defiance of a Soviet ban. Petitions were signed declaring the illegality of Soviet rule and the commitment to non-violence was strong enough to withstand violent provocation by Soviet troops.

Apartheid was dismantled using non-violent protest and civil disobedience. Although violence had featured in the early years of opposition, Nelson Mandela realised that this reinforced stereotypical ideas of the violent, savage African. More importantly, it could not win against the South African authorities. To oppose this and to win international support, they needed to gain the moral high ground. Non-violent protests, strikes and civil disobedience were often quashed by the might of the South African army and security forces. However, the international exposure of the brutal repression of non-violent protest led to economic sanctions and international disapproval of the regime, and eventually its downfall in 1993.

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Most recently, Boris’ Government spent £57,000 on boxes used to serve fried chicken, which were printed with anti-violent messages aimed at solving the problem of knife crime in London. Campaigners viewed this as a racist and class based attempt to wade into an issue that Boris had done little to understand. Organisations protesting this initiative, publicly displayed the boxes with positive stories of people who had left behind their violent lifestyles. Others delivered the boxes back to the Home Office with responses from Londoners and suggestions about how to resolve the problem. The Home Office has since invited organisers in for talks about possible solutions.

The Led By Donkeys campaign has been active in exposing contradictions by Brexit supporting campaigners and MPs. Their tactics include playing television clips of Conservative MPs in their own constituencies, contradicting themselves over Brexit and the prorogation of Parliament. They have also hired billboards in cities all over England, comparing the tweets of MPs, members of the Leave Campaign and ministers prior to and after the Brexit referendum.

These are only a few examples of success but there are countless others.

For it to succeed, non-violent protest must be structured, organised and focused. It needs to be strategic and employ tactics as if it were a war.  It doesn’t have to take the form of public marches (although, there is power in this). The great thing about it is that everyone can get involved in one way or another.

  If you are feeling powerless in the face of a suspended Parliament, here are a few things you can do:

  • Write to you local MP to tell them to oppose Boris’ suspension of Parliament under the guise of constitutionality (find out who your MP is here).
  • Write to the Conservative Party to encourage Tory MPs to oppose Brexit without a deal and prorogation.
  • Tweet your opposition.
  • Join a Facebook group to find out about local protests events.
  • Sign a petition to revoke the prorogation.
  • Start a blog, comment on this post to show your support and share ideas online about non-violent protest.
  • Get creative! Dance, sing, paint your protest!
  • Tweet me your ideas for non-violent protest @conflictexpert .

We are the power, not our politicians. They are there because we have elected them. Hopefully, these ideas will help you feel more empowered and able to express yourself peacefully and constructively.

If you have any other ideas, feel free to leave a comment!

How To Be Honest With Somebody Without It Leading to Conflict

Honest communication is a double- edged sword. On the one hand, it can clarify murky matters, encourage trust and provide more intimacy and credibility to any kind of relationship. On the other hand, it can really upset somebody if you tell them bluntly what you think about them or something they have done.

It’s hard to find the right balance between expressing yourself authentically and doing it in a way that doesn’t hurt the other person.

Honesty in the context of conflict resolution is about clarity. Conflict is worsened when we don’t understand the reasons for a certain behaviour. We tend to create our own perceptions of why somebody is not talking to us, why they didn’t fulfil our expectations and why we are not to blame for it. It also comes from a place of vulnerability which by default, requires honesty.

This blog explains how you can be more honest in your relationships so that you can avoid misunderstandings.

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Honesty in Conflict

When I talk about being honest in conflict, here is what I mean:

  • Telling somebody how you feel (in any context);
  • Letting somebody know what you want or don’t want;
  • Establishing boundaries and expressing which types of behaviour you find acceptable
  • Discussing your perceptions about a person’s behaviour;
  • Divulging information that might help you both find a solution to resolve your conflict.

If you are being honest with yourself in conflict, this can also take the form of your motivations. Asking yourself questions such as “what do I want to achieve from this?” will help you decide what action to take.  You should also take an honest look at your conflict considerations.

How to Lessen the Blow of Honesty

I used to find it hard to express my needs and emotions to men in senior positions. That made it hard to progress in my career or have genuinely intimate, romantic relationships. It’s difficult to be honest about these things when you have learnt that it can be dangerous or it’s not acceptable for a woman to express herself in this way. I always felt that I would be perceived as too demanding or aggressive. It made me feel angry that I had to suppress this part of myself and subordinate my needs below a man’s. That was based on my own, learned behaviours and perceptions.

To make this easier, I’ve learnt that honesty is best received when cushioned with empathy for yourself and others.

Empathy is what acknowledges that words can hurt, no matter what your intentions are in expressing them. We’ve all received feedback that hurts, despite the person intending to help you improve your performance. We’ve also all been rejected and so we all know how much it can sting, long after the event.

When delivering an honest message, I often cushion it with empathy and what helps is to imagine that I am sending it to somebody I care about (even if I don’t). You won’t ever be able to control their reaction to you but you can do your best to communicate it in a way that minimises the risk of conflict.

Underlying all of this is your intention. Using empathy to express yourself will never include insults, even thinly veiled. It will never allow you to disrespect, undermine, condescend or use arrogance. All it does is connect us as human beings, to our emotions. This is my most powerful conflict resolution tool.

A sincere apology is a great example of this.

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Here are some phrases that might help you:

  1. Can I be honest with you about something?
  2. I feel hesitant to say this to you because I don’t want to hurt you;
  3. I am finding it hard to find the words to be honest with you about how I am feeling;
  4. It’s important for me to be honest with you about this and I don’t intend in any way to disrespect you. My intention is ….;
  5. I am being honest with you about this because I respect you and I don’t want you to misunderstand how much I value our relationship;
  6. I understand that you feel […] about what I just said. I really need you to know how I see things and I want to make sure we work out how best to resolve this.

When I give honest feedback, I don’t like to use positive examples of performance or silver linings unless I genuinely mean them. Some messages need to be delivered and that’s all there is to it. When we put an artificially positive spin on it, it’s a way of avoiding the discomfort of telling hard truths and it can be confusing.

Instead, a sincere attempt to communicate from a place of truth that clears the air, builds better relationships, and encourages openness will reduce the chances of conflict. To get to that place, you need to be comfortable with your own truth. That’s a whole different blog post (coming soon!)

As always, please feel free to comment !

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