Being Vulnerable Can Resolve Conflict. Here’s How.

The first time I saw a couple dancing tango in Buenos Aires was on a bustling shopping street. In the centre of a crowd of tourists, they stared at each other passionately, their facial expressions a parody of romantic jealousy. The performance was marked with elaborate and dramatic movements which exaggerated the sultry, fiery tone. I snapped away at the couple with my disposable camera (it was 2005), delighted at the show. I walked away from it, not feeling particularly moved until I developed my photos some days later.

What I captured hadn’t been feigned for onlookers. Two photos showed the intimacy of their close embrace as the dancers closed their eyes and clung to each other. In the moments when they weren’t pretending for tourists, their yearning for connection was expressed through the tightness of their union in between flips and tricks. I still have those photos to remind me that vulnerability is what makes us beautiful, human and authentic. Expressing it genuinely is what brings us closer to others, builds trust and allows us to experience life with all of our heart and emotions.

Photo by Vincent Pelletier on Pexels.com

That’s not an easy conclusion to reach and for many of us, it’s something that we have to re-learn. As children, we were told not to reveal too much of ourselves because it might not be accepted by our communities.

 I feel sad for men who cannot even get in touch with their emotions, let alone express them because they were taught this was weak and somehow, it equated to being feminine. Women also find it hard to appear imperfect. We are judged every day on what we wear, what we say, how we behave and whether we asked for it.

Shame and Vulnerability

Brene’ Brown, a leading shame researcher, found that we all feel shame and if you don’t, it’s because you have no capacity for human emotion. We experience shame as a fear of disconnection from others; that we will not be accepted if we reveal who we really are to them. In extreme cases, people who experience abuse don’t even talk about their trauma because they feel so unworthy of love and acceptance that they must hide their experience, even from themselves.

You might feel the need to hide a mistake at work because if people knew about it, they may no longer accept you as a highly educated professional. You may feel that people would see you as weak if you told them that you suffer from a mental illness or that you are grieving somebody you love which is why you’re finding it hard to perform at your usual levels. Shame shows up in all sorts of ways but the basic feature of it is an unwillingness to be who you are because that part of you may be rejected by others. That’s a painful, isolating and unhappy place to be.

Shame underlies vulnerability.

Wholeheartedness  

We have learnt to numb our vulnerabilities through drink, drugs, eating, pretending and a whole raft of other ways that stop us from facing the discomfort of being imperfect. I don’t even know what it means to be perfect!

The problem with this is that you can’t just numb one emotion, you have to numb everything including joy, love, happiness and satisfaction. Allowing and being open to your vulnerabilities, observing them, being compassionate towards them is where our humanity resides.

When you live wholeheartedly, you take risks. You accept that asking out somebody might lead to rejection, but you do it anyway. You know that if you quit the job that makes you unhappy, things might not work out but that’s ok. Failure is not something to be ashamed of.

You understand that when you express your deepest secret to a friend, they might be disappointed in you but that doesn’t change your approval off yourself.

You know you are worthy with all your imperfections and flaws. You know that nobody can reject you because you accept yourself. People who have this inner belief aren’t judgmental of others. Instead, they see the beauty in vulnerability and know that it is a necessary part of being alive. It doesn’t mean that it’s easy to sit with, but the alternative is emotional emptiness.

We stop feeling ashamed of appearing stupid, failing, not being attractive enough, not being whatever enough. We are satisfied with whatever there is.

What Does This Mean For Conflict?

When I was training to become a lawyer, I learnt to find ways to blame the other party. Lawyers are paid a to analyse the rules, laws and procedures and to come up with positions and defences to convince a judge that you are right, and the other party is wrong. Controlling the outcome is the aim and the more concrete your position is, the better. These positions can become so entrenched that parties can spend thousands of pounds proving that they are right.

I’m not saying that legal action isn’t appropriate in some situations but what I am saying is that you should be aware of your vulnerabilities and look at them realistically. Pretending you have none is costly in a real, practical sense.

In any conflict, it’s highly unlikely that you are one hundred per cent right. Conflict is complex and is usually accompanied by high emotions, new and old wounds and interest and needs that are left wanting. This can lead to you fighting something that you will lose, in more ways than one.

People who don’t accept or express their vulnerabilities are most likely to blame somebody else and insist on being right. They build walls around themselves during conflict and throw stones at the other party. That’s what blame is; a defence mechanism that discharges pain and suffering onto the other person. It comes from shame.

Conflict and Vulnerability

When parties to a conflict perceive that they will “win”, they usually don’t want to negotiate or resolve the conflict in another way. They believe they are right, a belief often fueled by lawyers, friends, relatives or anything else that supports that position.

We don’t tend to recognise our vulnerabilities until something happens which makes us realise that we won’t win and that the conflict is hurting us more than we can stand. When the other party has the same perception, this usually results in attempts to resolve conflict.

Parties then start to reason that the costs of pursuing a legal battle outweigh the amount of the claim. This can be persuasive in bringing parties together.

In inter-personal disputes, parties might feel emotionally exhausted or after a period of absence from the other party, they may realise that their relationship is worth saving.  

Resolving Conflict Using Wholeheartedness

In order to be vulnerable, you need to be honest about your feelings, needs and crucially, what you want from a resolution.

Starting any conversation with an acknowledgment of how you feel, how the other person seems to feel and a commitment to moving forward with a conflict, will at the very least, get the attention of the other party.  

Telling them that both of you are being negatively affected by the conflict may actually get them to think seriously about resolving it.

It might not, you might be rejected. They may totally ignore you and carry on as before. This will nonetheless, provide you with valuable information. The conflict just isn’t ripe yet for resolution. Maybe the other party’s perception of the conflict is still different to yours. The answer may just be to wait a little longer until emotions and perceptions have died down.

What you can be sure of is that approaching conflict with a willingness to admit to mistakes, to apologise if you cause harm and to openly understand the interests, needs and emotions of the other person will help you to contain conflict and come to mutually beneficial solutions. You will feel empowered and you may even find a renewed, deeper connection with somebody who you once despised.

As I often say, none of this is easy. My emotions are still a battle for me and I often have to give myself a pep talk about the way I react to somebody. I always have to step back from my emotions and take time out to let them self-expire before I read over what I have written and attempt to put it into practice. The fact that you are reading this blog post is a step in the right direction, for which you should give yourself credit.

When have you been vulnerable and how has it helped resolve conflict? Has it made it worse? Let me know by leaving a comment!

“Don’t Dwell On It” And Other Useless Conflict Resolution Advice You Should Ignore

I once asked a friend of mine for help. I felt completely irritated, rejected and infuriated by a man who I had been dating but had decided to end things by ignoring me. I wondered whether he had been injured or worse but I think he just hoped that I would move on and forget about him. That way, no uncomfortable conversation about things ending would have to take place. I was over it after a week but one of the pieces of advice I received that didn’t help was, “don’t dwell on it”.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 I knew this was probably the right advice but I spent a lot of time wondering whether to text, what might be his motivations, was it something I had said or done and what could have occurred in this grown man’s life to make him communicate (or not) so childishly?

All I wanted to do was dwell in over-analysis ! This advice grated on me so much that I have compiled a list of pointless things we say which should be discarded. 

The real reason we say these things is to avoid facing something which is uncomfortable. Instead, I advocate getting to grips with your emotions and accepting that conflict is part of life. You can and will, learn from it and grow.

“Don’t dwell on it”

Emotions need to be felt, experienced, acknowledged and given a voice. It may take hours, days or months. When we don’t do this, conflict may follow because emotions fester. Once you have accepted how you feel and allowed them to be there, they will subside into a state of mind that allows you to think clearly.

This is an active process. Acceptance is not something passive that just happens, you have to go through the emotional disruption and its discomfort to get to a place of peace.

Getting emotional distance will help you to do this and it will also give you the head space to figure out what you want to do next after reviewing your conflict considerations.

“Just move on”

If only it were that easy. If only I could just switch on a button so that I could accept the break-up of a relationship, ill treatment, misunderstanding or loss. That’s just not how we work.  Maybe there are times when we can move on but in general, we need to take steps before we can. That could include taking some time out and thinking things through or it could mean, having a conversation with somebody to resolve matters. The point is that you need to deal constructively with your emotions, figure out what you want to do about the conflict and then you can move on.

“You’re  right”                

Conflict is not usually black and white. It’s complex and messy because it involves our emotions, our memories of what happened and our perceptions of somebody’s behaviour. We usually get to conflict after a period of miscommunication or a lack of communication which leads to us creating stories about the other person.

It really doesn’t help to hear that you are right. A person may agree with your view of the conflict or see it from your perspective but there is always another side to any story.

If you continue to believe you’re right and the other person is wrong, you’ll end up stuck in your position. It makes resolution more difficult as your belief that you are right might turn into a need to win.

Ok, maybe not constructive but still true…. Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

“Ignore them”

Sometimes it’s best to ignore conflict but only after you have considered your conflict considerations and come to the conclusion that nothing positive or worthwhile can come out of confrontation. However, it’s not an approach that you should always adopt. Conflict avoidance can make things worse as the other person may feel offended, ignored and unimportant because of your silence. The other person’s perceptions could construe the conflict in a number of ways. The silent treatment is childish, and you need to think carefully before you adopt it.

Can you think of any other useless conflict advice? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

I’m Getting the Silent Treatment. What Can I Do About It?

Sometimes, ignoring conflict makes commercial sense. It’s also a good option when all the other person is doing is insulting you and nothing good can come out of you responding, constructively or otherwise. Doing nothing should be part of your conflict resolution toolkit.

This blog post is about those times when you reach out to somebody and they ignore you. If you’re reading this, it’s probably because you have made yourself vulnerable to somebody and the result was a wall of silent, excruciating, frustrating rejection.

I’ve already written about how you can manage your feelings of rejection, but this is about what you should do when somebody’s ignoring you but you want to re-establish contact.

Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

The reasons for the silent treatment

You’ll never really know why somebody isn’t talking to you. However, here is a very basic, possible explanation.

We have default reactions to conflict which are motivated by fear. Conflict can be scary. If you think you can win, you’ll probably fight. If you think you’ll lose, you might flee so that you avoid having to engage because your opponent is stronger. You might even freeze because your mind has gone blank. There are all primal responses to danger.

In the modern day, we might fear different things. Aggression and violence are still likely fear inducing acts but we may also worry about losing respect, approval, love, acceptance or belonging by fighting. In that case, we might flee.

This might take the form of ignoring texts. Perhaps the perception is that by not responding to a potential partner, they’ll give up and move on.  This gets rid of the problem without having to fight (or just confront the person). It’s much easier to hope that the other person will just get the message.

People who ignore potential conflict in this way don’t realise that it doesn’t have to be an emotional mess of screaming and shouting. It can just be an adult conversation, that expresses feelings, diffuses negative emotions and clarifies what each person needs and wants. They also don’t understand that by failing to communicate with you, they just make things worse.

When the silent treatment is a reaction to conflict, it shows an inability to communicate effectively, to express vulnerability and a non-assertive way of relating to some people.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

If you are on the receiving end of the silent treatment, there are a few questions that you need to answer before taking any action:

  1. Ask yourself why you want to resume contact. If this is a pattern with a person, think about whether this is a strategy to control you. If so, what will resuming your relationship with them give you? Take time to think things over before you take the next step but the main question here is about your honest motivations.
  • Is it time to give up? If you have communicated to the other person several times that you would like to talk to them and they have not responded, it’s time to give up. They are not ready to talk to you. You’ve been vulnerable and you have probably gone through some emotional turmoil because of this response and you deserve better than that.
  • Could there be any other legitimate reason why you have not had a response? Being busy, losing your phone or not seeing your messages are not valid reasons. However, we all go through difficulties in life that take us away from everyday concerns. Grief is a good example of this. In my own experience of loss, I just couldn’t be bothered to respond to many people who were blissfully unaware of my circumstances. It wasn’t personal, it just took up too much of my energy and I didn’t want to socialise. For this reason alone, it’s best not to launch into a tirade because you feel rejected.
  • Are you respecting boundaries? Being continually asked for contact can get annoying, especially when somebody has explained the reasons why they don’t want it. Could it be that you are just not listening to what the other person wants?

It’s hard because we want to understand why we are being rejected and we automatically believe that this was intentional.

If you want to deal with this constructively, here are a few ideas:

  • Deal with your emotions before you make contact by getting some distance
  • Approach the other person sensitively and respectfully
  • If you think an apology might help, give one
  • Express the will to reach a solution and to mend your relationship
  • Give the other person time to consider your message and accept the fact that they may not respond to you.

I’m not going to tell you not to dwell on your feelings of rejection. That’s totally pointless! Rejection is a feeling of loss and giving yourself to feel that loss is what you need to heal! However, if the approach above doesn’t work, it’s time to move on and accept that some conflicts are best left unresolved and maybe, that’s all there is to it.

 As always, let me know what you think!

How To Stop Playing The Blame Game And Start Resolving Conflict

I remember going to a camping site in Norfolk for an event and being ridiculously excited about it. I’d never been camping before and driving into the site and figuring out how to put up a tent (just get somebody else to do it) was quite fun.

That was until I went to pay for my pitch. The owner of the site immediately launched into a tirade about how I’d ruined everything. My car was parked in the wrong place, my tent had been put up badly (ouch) and I’d caused inconvenience to everyone. I stood there, not really knowing what I had done wrong but feeling like I’d committed a terrible act that needed to be punished. For a moment, I felt ashamed. I apologised because I knew that fanning the flames of the owner’s wrath could lead to me being kicked out. “Yeah well,” she responded, “it’s people like you that get on everyone’s nerves.”

The blame game was obviously part of the owner’s conflict resolution style and she’s not alone. I see it most obviously when my niece and nephew fight; I see it when couples get irritated with each other and I see it in companies where the blame culture trickles down from management.

It creates and escalates conflict, that’s for sure. Here’s why:

What is Blame?

People who blame, accuse others of doing a wrongful act. It doesn’t matter what that specific act is, however, it is a moral judgment based on the accuser’s moral standards. In the campsite owner’s mind, parking in the wrong place was inconsiderate and probably disrespectful of her authority and status. For that, I needed to be shamed.

The message that blame sends to the other is that you have lost approval because of that act and you should be punished. It was a shameful thing to do and usually, blame comes from a place of pain and suffering. It’s a way of discharging pain. You want the other person to feel the pain that you do because of their act.

I saw a mother tell off her child in a supermarket and her words were so riddled with hurt that it stuck with me all day: “Look what you did, you stupid, little brat. Always knocking things over, I wish you hadn’t been born.” She hadn’t noticed that her bag had knocked over the apples that had tumbled down around her feet.

As with all conflict, a lot of it is to do with perception. It could also be layered with other emotions and accusations. The act may appear to be trivial to the outsider, but the accuser has a need to transfer previous pain (most likely from an event which has nothing to do with the present act) to the other person using shame and punishment.

Why Blame?

  • It stops us having to think about our own accountability, behaviour and contribution as it focuses it on somebody else.
  • It’s a form of denial which helps to preserve your self-esteem.
  • It means it’s no longer your problem to deal with.

When we look at companies with blame cultures, managers usually focus on the error committed by an employee and point to procedures and rules to really emphasise the mistake. The sole focus becomes the mistake. There is no attempt to prevent this mistake from happening again and since blaming is the default mechanism, it prevents an examination into the other factors that may have led to it; poor management, for example.

This stops managers having to face the fact that they may have also done something wrong and it gives the accuser a level of impunity without the discomfort of having to examine their own limitations.

Blame and Shame

Shame is the belief that you are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, acceptance or belonging. These are some of our most basic needs and when we are deprived of them, we feel angry, rejected and humiliated. It can result from a traumatic act, such as abuse, or it can come from social attitudes.

Shame can come from blame. It also motivates us to blame others. Nobody likes that feeling of inadequacy that shame brings with it. That twisting, churning feeling in your stomach that only punishment can rid you of.

What It Means For Conflict

Conflict can become a game that one person has to win and the other has to lose. Blaming puts a person in a position of power as they are judging your actions according to their own moral standards.

It strips out empathy, stops you from exercising compassion and distances you from any form of collaboration, creative problem solving or satisfying relationships.  A person who is constantly blamed may feel the need to retaliate with violence, with hurtful comments or some other drastic action. The resentment that it causes can destroy intimacy and damage our self-esteem. You cannot communicate constructively when you feel like that, let alone resolve conflict.

Here’s what to do instead:

Think about what you want from this relationship. If you are constantly examining your behaviour and apologising, explaining, justifying or generally feeling like you are not good enough, is it time to leave? That applies to any relationship.

Start with yourself. What role do you have in this conflict? You need to be honest about your own actions, no matter how painful that is. Examining yourself and being accountable takes courage but in many cases, can be the first step to resolving conflict.

Recognise how you feel. If you feel ashamed, take a moment to understand what that could be linked to. In the case of the campsite owner, my feelings of shame probably arose from society’s ingrained use of extending and withdrawing approval for certain kinds of behaviours. Sometimes, it can be linked to a parent’s way of disciplining you or abuse that you have suffered. Once you have some emotional distance and you are able to communicate with the person blaming you, tell the other person how you felt when they blamed you.

Don’t turn it into a competition. Once you’ve told the other person how you feel, explain to them what happened, your intentions and why you never meant to hurt them. If you are finding this difficult, tell them how hard it is to talk about your feelings, especially shame. This requires a great deal of comfort with vulnerability and a genuine desire to reach a solution.

Explain why it is important to you to resolve this and say how. Is it your relationship? Is it because you want more intimacy with your partner but blame is getting in the way? Perhaps, you want to be seen and recognised for the talented employee that you but you’re only human and we all make mistakes?

Don’t judge. That element of blame needs to go so that you can focus on creative solutions to prevent this from happening again.

Here’s how the conversation might go:

I feel undervalued and underappreciated every time I am blamed for this error. I realise that something has gone wrong and I think it is because of a few things that I have done. I also feel embarrassed by my role in this mistake and have come up with a way to prevent it from happening again. I want to make sure it doesn’t happen again and will do my best to make sure of that but in the meantime, I need the blame to stop and instead, to focus on how we can get our relationship back on track. I can see that you felt angry and disappointed by the mistake and that’s why it’s important to me that we find a way to get past this.

Conveying empathy always helps to encourage trust building and understanding which play a key role in conflict resolution. If you find yourself blaming others, be honest about it. It may be a learned behaviour. Once you recognise it, you can take steps to switch from this default response to empathy, deeper intimacy, understanding and growth. That, in a nutshell, is why I love conflict so much.

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

Boris’ Brexit Brinkmanship. The Pros and Cons of this Negotiation Technique

If like me, you are wondering why the government would be in favour of a No-Deal Brexit, here’s my explanation. It’s a negotiation technique aimed at forcing the other side to give in to unreasonable terms. The purpose of this post is to look at the latest Brexit position from a conflict resolution perspective, not to debate whether I am in favour of it or not. In any case, I think we’re a little late for that !

Brinkmanship isn’t new. Boris certainly didn’t invent it. The best example of it is the Cuban Missile Crisis which brought the US and the Soviet Union to the brink of war until the Soviet Union conceded. We also see this in everyday examples. Hijackers and kidnappers use it to convince the police that they will kill hostages unless they get the sum of money or other benefit that they have demanded. It’s also used by unions. If you have ever experienced the wrath of a Londoner, 48 hours before a tube strike is called, you can understand why this brings the London Underground to the negotiating table.

What is Brinkmanship?

It’s a game of chicken. It’s about making the other side believe that you are willing to push the button on the nuclear bomb unless they agree to your unreasonable terms or back down. Dominance, aggression, belligerence, unreasonableness and downright lunacy are all features of this.

Brinkmanship and Brexit

Boris has committed to taking the UK out of the EU on 31st October, come what may. This, according to leading economists such as the Bank of England is likely to lead to a recession and just the threats alone, have resulted in the value of the pound plummeting. His government has refused to rule out a no-deal budget and allocated billions to that eventuality. He is also forking out millions in tax-payer money for advertising campaigns to reassure the public about the effect of a no-deal Brexit both in the UK and across the EU.

 It also risks the disintegration of the United Kingdom as Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in favour of remaining in the EU. It could even re-open the violent conflict in Northern Ireland that was put to rest by the Good Friday Agreement.

There is a method to this madness. It’s meant to look like a serious position instead of a bluff. Why else would you borrow millions to advertise it?

Advantages

The key advantage to this technique is that you use your powerful weapon to force the other party to be so scared that you’ll use it, that they give in to your demands. Once in that fearful state, they’ll agree to your terms.

When large companies do this with smaller companies, they use their economic dominance to force them to agree to large discounts or unfair contractual terms.  This is the best scenario for brinkmanship. Your opponent may be strong, but you have figured out their weakness and what you’ve got is so dangerous to them that the threat of destruction brings them to their knees.  

Realistically, you’ll not care about what they think of you afterwards, your relationship or any long terms effects.

With Brexit, the threat to the EU is that they will lose trade and financial contribution from the fifth strongest economy in the world which is likely to have a knock-on effect to the rest of the EU.  It may even inspire other countries in the EU to do the same, especially with the rise of right-wing politics.

There’s also the re-framing of the back-stop. Boris has rejected it as undemocratic, saying that they cannot accept any European intervention in any of its territory. What this means is that there will be no transition period for Northern Ireland and so businesses which trade between the two territories will face EU checks and tariffs overnight. It has also reignited the political conflict relating to British rule over Northern Ireland. The DUP who wish to remain part of Great Britain and who enable the Conservative majority, want to ditch the back stop. They see this as a way to further entrench the union. Sinn Fein’s answer to that could have been predicted. A hard border will bring them closer towards British rule, something they adamantly oppose.

A benefit for Boris is that this is forcing Ireland and the EU to concede to Britain, rights that other EU Members cannot give to non-EU members. This is what he is counting on from such a stiff stance.

Photo by @joagbriel on Pexels.com

The political advantages

There’s another motivating factor in all of this too. The easy way out is a no-deal. It means that Boris just has to do what he is good at. Bluster and bluff to mask his incompetence. Theresa May couldn’t get Parliament to agree to her proposed deal but a no-deal Brexit means Boris doesn’t need to waste time getting Parliament to agree or reject. In fact, no action is required to leave without a deal.

This position appeals to pro-Brexit supporters who might prefer the coarse, macho approach of Nigel Farage but will back Boris because he’s the PM and is taking the desired action. The “we’ll show them” attitude appeals to those voters who are tired of being told what to do by the EU and want to take back control. Boris will be able to exploit those voters if a general election is held before 31st October and if we leave without a deal, he’ll have destroyed the Brexit Party. They’ll only be viable as long as Brexit is.

The position he has taken over the back-stop strengthens his alliance with the DUP, without which, his very fragile majority will fall.

It also means he can defeat Corbyn with it. The Labour Party has been shy in coming out with their position. I’m still quite unclear about their remain stance which is unsurprising since their voting base is split over the issue. It’s unlikely that the Liberal Democrats will gain a majority in Parliament because of the First Past the Post electoral system and so Boris is hoping that a split opposition over the issue will be easily conquered. What he hasn’t factored in, is the renewed energy of the Liberal Democrats who may gain seats with their pro-remain agenda and their willingness to form alliances with other pro-remain parties. They’ve made a significant win in a recent by-election which has reduced the Conservative majority to just one MP which has left us wondering whether we’ll even have a government by the end of the summer recess. In this political climate, anything is possible.

The Disadvantages

The context of brinkmanship has to be right.

With the Cuban Missile Crisis, the world risked nuclear war between two powerful, competing nations.

Trump is able to use a kind of brinkmanship with countries like Guatemala. He can threaten them with sanctions that would devastate developing countries. The result is that they quickly yield to accommodate his immigration policies, even if they violate human rights.

However, brinkmanship can lead to long-term anger, resentment and it destroys relationships. Guatemala relies on trade with the US and so even if they are angry, there’s not much they can do about it.

We simply don’t have that kind of sway with the EU. Boris is attempting to portray Brexit as a war. However, this isn’t a war. He’s also trying to portray us as being able to weather the economic storm that will follow. There are many that say that we will be able to withstand disentangling ourselves from the most integrated economic system in the world. All we need, is a bit of positive thinking, according to Boris.

We’re also dealing with a union of countries. That’s a huge market we would probably be prudent to trade with, whether we leave with a deal or not.

As for the rest of the world, we won’t be able to agree a trade deal with them until we leave the EU. Trade deals take time and negotiation. It’s not just a case of magically entering into a trade deal with the EU or with other countries. These, like all international treaties, are negotiated. Maintaining a good relationship with the EU and all of its members is a good idea for that reason alone.

If you underestimate your opponent’s strength, they could just walk away. Similarly, if you over-inflate the power of the threat, they could just see it as a bluff and ignore it.

Make no mistake, the EU have several negotiation experts on their team that can recognise this technique for what it is.

That’s not to say that the EU won’t suffer from a no-deal but one of its interests is maintaining unity. If it yields to Boris, it may face the same from countries such as Poland, Greece or Italy.

The other problem that we face is that we have no terms to offer the EU if they did actually yield. Theresa’s deal is off the table and didn’t really ever make it onto said table. So, it’s unclear what the EU is supposed to be yielding to. The intention behind all of this may be instead to make the EU more compliant. If they are not compliant by the end of all of this, Michael Gove can continue to blame them for a no deal Brexit when what he really means is, they won’t do as they are told. Not a good negotiation strategy.

I’d love to know your thoughts and happy to debate this respectfully!

32 Phrases To Help You Express Empathy

One thing is for sure. We all suffer.

 If you think that others sail through life without the agony of grief and illness, the tragedy of heart break or loneliness then you are mistaken. This is just a condition of life. When times are good, conflict doesn’t feature. It usually comes out of difficult times, when our needs are not being met in some way.

Photo by Negative Space on Pexels.com

When you empathise with somebody, you recognise their experience without judging it, changing it or turning away from it.  When you feel empathy from somebody, this is what they might display:

  • Active listening. They allow you to speak and encourage you to open up about your emotions and experiences. They may use verbal queues or words to do this, summarise what you say or paraphrase it.
  • Their response is non-judgmental. They will simply allow you to express what needs to be said.
  • If and when you feel comfortable, they could hug you or touch your arm in a reassuring way.

Compassion is also a feature of empathy. It’s a recognition that we all suffer and no matter how difficult it is to sit with somebody whilst they suffer, the listener will be present and open to it.

The most profound expression of empathy came from a friend of mine who had lost his wife some years ago. When my father passed away and I was struggling with my feelings of loss, he didn’t say much, he just listened and hugged me. All he could say to me was, “it gets easier”. Not everyone finds death or cancer easy to face and I spent a lot of time dividing my friends and family into those who could handle my experience and those who couldn’t.

Why Practice Empathy and Compassion?

Empathy and compassion are what connects us emotionally to others. For some reason, we feel a need to talk about our suffering and when somebody truly listens to you without diminishing it, we feel acknowledged and understood. Suffering, such as grief, becomes a part of who we are and maybe in talking about it, what we are really doing is declaring our new identity.

For those of us who can recognise it, it’s a fundamentally human experience. The more I work on understanding my own suffering and emotions and staying with somebody through their difficulties, the more fulfilled and resilient I feel.

Expressing Empathy

Empathy and compassion are practices that develop with time. It takes a great deal of strength to be with somebody in pain and it’s no wonder that we are not all equipped to express it adequately. Empathy can transform conflict into mutual understanding if done correctly. It requires honesty and an acceptance of your own emotions and prejudices before you can exercise it towards a person with whom you are in conflict.

I know how hard that is. There are so many ways that our anger, humiliation, hurt and exasperation can stop us from forgiving the other person. It’s why we stop seeing them as people with needs and start seeing them as the enemy. You may need some time too deal with your own emotions before you take that step.

Here are some crucial phrases for your empathy tool kit:

  1. I can see that you are upset.
  2. It must be hard be for you.
  3. This is a really challenging time for you.
  4. I am sorry for your loss.
  5. It’s understandable that you would feel disappointed by this.
  6. The sadness you must feel isn’t easy to put into words.
  7. From what you have said, it is clear why you’d be angry about that.
  8. I’m sorry for the suffering I caused you.
  9. I apologise for my actions.
  10. Of course, you feel irritated, angry, sad etc.
  11. So, you feel aggrieved that you were treated in this way.
  12. Your anger/ sadness/ unhappiness etc makes total sense to me.
  13. You’re stuck in a tricky situation here and I see why you feel ….
  14. I feel sad to hear that you experienced this.
  15. It seems so unfair that you went through this.
  16. I wish I could do something to help you.
  17. What can I do to help you?
  18. Would you like a hug?
  19. How can I make things better for you?
  20. If you want to cry, I will sit with you and hold your hand.
  21. I will sit with you and listen to your fears.
  22. You don’t have to justify why you did what you did.
  23. You don’t have to justify or explain how you feel. It makes sense.
  24. If you don’t want to talk, it’s ok, I’ll just sit with you.
  25. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you.
  26. Thank you for telling me this.
  27. What has this been like for you?
  28. How are you feeling about it?
  29. I love you, no matter what.
  30. I am proud of you.
  31. As I listen to you, it makes me feel …
  32. I am here for you, no matter what.

Those phrases are not all about empathy alone and some of them are intended to encourage trust and honesty so that the person speaking feels more comfortable.

Don’t forget your own emotions in this conflict and it is perfectly acceptable for you to ask the other person to listen to how you see the problem, what you felt and why it’s important to you to find a resolution. That might look something like this:

“I have listened to you and I can see that you are hurt by what happened. I also felt angry and hurt because I interpreted what happened to mean that you no longer want a relationship with me. I want us to mend our relationship and move on which is why I want to find a resolution to this that we are both happy with.”

Empathy is mostly about actions. An apology is a good example of this as it requires changing one’s behaviour in recognition of a person’s suffering.

None of this can be faked. If your actions don’t correspond with your words and it is clear that you are not listening or taking in what the other person is saying, this can seriously undermine any constructive conversation intended to resolve conflict.

Can you think of anymore? Let me know by leaving a comment! 

How to Deal with Sneaks and Liars Without Getting Into A Fight

I was a pretty sneaky teenager. I’d tell my parents I was going over to a friend’s house when instead I was meeting somebody who my parents wouldn’t approve of. Although this is a mundane example, it gets worrying when it carries on into adult relationships. If you’ve ever had relationships with anyone (and I’m guessing, you have!) you’ll know that our childish antics sometimes never die. It’s even harder when you work with a sneaky liar or you can’t just ditch them.

Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Why Lie?

We all lie. Scientific studies show that different contexts will justify our propensity to stretch the truth. A lie I told recently to my five-year old niece was that she couldn’t go on the incredibly dangerous and scary looking climbing wall in the middle of the park because they had sold out of tickets. When she asked the ticket seller if that was true, I stared at the woman intently and nodded my head so that she would play along. My need to protect my niece outweighed my moral view of lying and I think it did for the ticket seller too.

Putting to one side narcissistic disorders, people lie for all kinds of reasons.

Some people might do so to hide their incompetence and to appear confident, knowledgeable or interesting. These are all needs that we have in one way or another.

It could also be about survival. They may have made a mistake and feared the consequences of the truth. It could mean being fired, facing legal consequences or losing an important relationship.

The truth

In reality, the truth is not a fixed concept but instead an interpretation of events that have happened. This could be obvious. However, the facts can be manipulated to bring about a version of the truth. It’s what juries have to do when they decide a case as each side to a conflict will present the facts in a slightly different way. You might not even be intending to deceive; it may genuinely be your interpretation of the truth. Memories, after all, can distort over time.

The truth as you interpret it, can make you feel vulnerable. Lies can therefore, provide a shield against a perceived threat, a reaction to conflict or negative consequences.

We all do this. We all lie to ourselves about what we feel, what we want and what we deserve. It’s not until we start being honest with ourselves that we really start to communicate sincerely with others.

As I wrote in my previous posts about dealing with difficult people, it’s not them that are the problem. It’s their behaviour that needs to be tackled.

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

Here’s what to do about lies

Firstly, ask yourself what the impact of the lie is on you. Yes, it can be frustrating when somebody lies to you but is it worth confronting if you know that all it will do is lead to conflict?

Be careful with your own words. Directly confronting somebody by calling them a liar will make them angry and defensive. You might be wrong about them lying which, for obvious reasons, will back-fire.

If a person over-commits or is unreliable, make sure you have a back up plan. If you know that somebody always says that they can do something important for you but never does, don’t call out their lies. Instead, make alternative arrangements or politely refuse and look for other solutions.

If you suspect that the lie will be denied (“that’s not what I said” or “you’re imagining it”), write down your conversations with this person. This is good for your own sanity and will help you constructively counter somebody’s lies.

If you feel angry, get some distance before you approach the person. You have emotional options to any situation and taking a step back will help you keep control of your response.

Instead of directly confronting a person you suspect is lying, ask them questions like, “how do you know that?” or “what proof of that do you have?” or “can you give me more details about that?”  Open questions about the source of information or something that occurred will highlight that you are not willing to accept the lies.

Empathy will help if a person’s lies have been found out, especially if they were lying out of desperation. It will help to communicate that you understand why they lied and recognise that they must feel exposed. It’s also a good idea to thank them for their honesty. This is important if you want to continue a relationship with the person who has lied.

The best advice that I can give is to be honest with yourself. Make sure that people understand that trust and honesty are the keystone of your relationship with them, in whatever context. If you can’t rely on what they say, if you don’t trust their words or you feel frustrated with the lack of connection and intimacy dishonesty creates, then move on from the relationship. You deserve better.

Let me know what you think by leaving a comment!

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