How to Live Drama Free in Your Professional Relationships and Personal Lives

It sounds impossible but it’s not. Conflict is a normal part of any kind of relationship. We will always disagree, we will always misinterpret or come across behaviours that we feel fearful or angry about.

That doesn’t mean, however, that every conflict has to be accompanied by drama. When dealt with in a mature and healthy manner, conflict is diffused by open communication that pinpoints emotions and expresses them assertively but not aggressively. Miscommunications are clarified and solutions are discussed that are acceptable to both parties, expectations are set and trust is restored. Constructive conflict can lead to better, more intimate relationships and confidence in each other.

Drama is destructive. What I mean by this is blame, criticism, offensive language, undermining, humiliation and attempts to destroy you. Violence and levels of toxicity you would expect from a narcissist are the extreme end of the dramatic spectrum.

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I had a colleague who would often attempt to sabotage my work by failing to provide necessary information, blaming me for gaps in my work which resulted from this and he would aggressively shout me down in meetings in an attempt to undermine me and humiliate me. He was a bully.

Looking back, he used drama as a smoke screen to protect his own ego and to shield himself from self-scrutiny and blame. He was so confident in his criticism of me that he succeeded in making me doubt myself and in attacking my self-confidence. I felt frightened of this intimidating man, unable to speak up because I felt vulnerable and powerless and most of all, I felt angry that I was being treated unfairly.

That’s how you know it is just drama. This distraction prevented anyone from examining his own role. I wish I could go back and tell myself some truths about his response. I wish I had had the courage to face my fears, especially that of my own power to say “stop”. I didn’t deserve this and neither do you.

For managers, it’s very hard to give performance feedback to people who thrive on drama. In our personal lives, we find it very hard to get close or communicate our own needs. Some people are simply nasty and there is no point in wasting your time trying to change them or help them. All you can do is recognise this and run.

If you do need to remain in a relationship with this person, here are a few tips about managing drama out of it and asserting yourself powerfully but politely which is the most effective way of standing your ground.

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  • Identify why you are in a relationship with this person. If you need the other person to do their job or work with you on a project, keep that goal as the focus of your relationship. You don’t need to have a personal relationship with anyone and if you want a professional relationship only, all exchanges with that person will have to reflect that. If you can’t walk away from it because you rely on their cooperation in some way, then keep that in mind.
  • What’s in it for them? The dramatic person might need you just as much as you need them. Understand which of their interests to emphasise. For example, you may wish to highlight that cooperation means their reputation will be improved. The flip side is that it will worsen if their cooperation is withdrawn. In your personal relationships, draw the dramatic person’s attention to the fact that you have common interests such as children and their well-being is what you are both striving for.
  • Realise that you have emotional options and you don’t need to react to the drama. You can choose instead to respond. It’s perfectly normal to feel frightened, angry, humiliated and angry by drama but you don’t have to express those when you are faced with it. You can instead, recognise these emotions, acknowledge them and pause before responding. You may even end the conversation if it becomes too overwhelming, with the intention to respond when you have dealt with your emotions. This is especially true if you feel your safety is at stake.
  •  Be assertive. Here is an example of how you might choose to respond to the drama :

I am unwilling to be the subject of any attempts to blame me, humiliate or undermine me. This is an inappropriate way to talk to me or relate to me in a professional context. I ask you to communicate with me respectfully and politely so that we can discuss the facts of the problem and we can find solutions.  I will not tolerate any behaviour which is derogatory or harmful in any way , not from you and not from anyone else.

Since we must cooperate with each other in order to reach a successful result because we will both benefit from this [outline how and which interests are at stake], if you ignore my request then I will no longer respond to your attempts to communicate [or other negative consequence].

You can express this however you wish, however, the key point of this message is to outline which behaviour you will and will not tolerate and this must also be acted upon. If they ignore you and continue as before, they will know that these words have no consequence. One way of showing that is to stop communicating and refer back to your request for better treatment. Letting them know firmly and politely that you set the terms of your engagement will communicate standards of steel and boundaries that must not be crossed.

In my case, I didn’t stand up for myself as assertively as I wish I had because I feared my own power. What if they saw me for the powerful woman that I am and reject me? Isn’t it all a bit too much? It’s not particularly “nice” is it? Yes, those are the beliefs installed in me and many other people. But if you want to advance on every level, those fears must be acknowledged, allowed to be there until the physical reaction to the emotion has passed and you must then act as if you are not fearful. That’s the essence of bravery.

Do you agree? I’d love to read your comments and suggestions !

Responding Rather Than Reacting? Enlighten Your Approach To Conflict In 5 Not-so-easy Steps

We’ve all been there. In a split second and without even thinking about it, you hit your opponent with a barrage of insults, scathing comments, aggressive accusations or a passive aggressive wall of silence. Your fury takes over and within minutes, you’ve transformed what could have been a difficult but doable discussion into a fight. The outcome might be an unrepairable breach of trust, the end of a relationship or at worst, a criminal record.

Most of the time, we don’t intend these consequences. It’s just an emotional reaction to something we have perceived, a story we have been told or are telling ourselves which may even be tied to past hurts which have nothing to do with the person in question.

All you really wanted to do was let the other person know that you felt hurt. You just want them to see things from your point of view and to acknowledge your feelings. You want them to say, “you matter” and even “I’m sorry”.

You may have already noticed however, that when you explode with rage at the other person, you don’t feel as if the conflict is resolved. Thinking back at the times when my temper got the better of me, I felt ashamed because I know I can communicate better than that. I also feared the retaliation that could have followed. That’s just not how I wish to interact with anyone. More importantly, reacting to conflict in this way diffuses your power to choose how you wish to respond.

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Responding to Conflict

When you respond to conflict, you are giving yourself the option to feel your emotions, express them clearly and then decide what you will do to resolve matters. It’s a skill that requires practice and patience and when you realise that you have options in every situation, this is the true exercise of power and influence. Not domination and violence.

This is an on-going work in progress for most people but the following five steps help me to respond rather than react to conflict.

(1) Be prepared for an emotionally difficult conversation. If you already feel angry or frustrated by somebody, the chances are that those feelings may be more intense when you see them or talk to them. If you suspect that this might be the case, prepare what you will say and do if you do get angry or feel like you may be overwhelmed by other emotions. What will you do if you feel you will cry or lose your temper? These reactions are unlikely to enable you to express yourself with clarity and precision so it’s a good idea to think about your potential reactions before seeing the person. In anger management terms, you’re finding out what your triggers are and how to manage them.

(2) Figure out what it feels like when you know you are about to get overwhelmed with emotions. When I feel vulnerable, my throat tightens and I shut down. I can’t speak. I feel a sudden burst of heat that can turn into trembling when I feel furious. Sadness feels like a tight chest and it’s similar to anxiety, although that I feel more in my belly. When I notice these sensations are becoming unmanageable, I either turn half of my attention to what I am experiencing in my body and my breath or I ask to excuse myself for a few moments. Deep breaths really help to calm the nervous system and this works very well for me. This type of awareness is the essence of secular mindfulness.

(3) Get Some Distance. This is a crucial step to take in any kind of conflict or difficult conversation. Many a time, I have asked for a few moments, a time out, a break or “some time to think about things”. I have even said that I felt too angry to speak constructively and that I needed a couple of days to calm down. This type of pause serves two purposes: (1) to help you process what you are feeling so that you don’t take your emotions out on the other person and ruin any bridges you have built and; (2) it gives you time to think clearly about what you will do to resolve the conflict. In short, it puts distance between your emotions and your actions.

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(4) What do you want to achieve? If you need the other person’s cooperation in order to fulfil your interests, you won’t get that if you burst into a fit of anger during a conversation with them. Equally, if you are having a conversation with your boss about his micro-managing, sobbing into your hands won’t communicate why you want things to change. If you can get your objectives clear, you’ll be able to see the benefit of including emotional reaction management as a way to prepare for your meeting. Consider writing an email instead of meeting in person. A word of warning though. Read and re-read over and over until you are confident that what you have written is clear and concise and won’t be perceived as rude, aggressive or offensive.

(5) Is it worth it? This question is a key conflict consideration. It works best when you are engaging with somebody who is prone to temper tantrums or passive aggressive tactics. Getting angry with them or retaliating may not be worth the outcome of more destructive conflict. It may make you feel better for a very short time but in reality, you may just be continuing the cycle of unpleasantness with no real gain for you. Do you have to engage at all with this person?

Responding rather than reacting to conflict is a step towards personal evolution. It’s empowering and productive because it allows you to focus on what is important to you in the long-run, not what makes you feel better in that moment.

As always, feel free to leave your comments. Do you have any other tips ?

How Being More Truthful With Yourself Can Help You Manage Anxiety, Fear and Anger

Here’s what I mean by truth. Self-knowledge. It’s a willingness to open yourself up to the things that cause you fear and anxiety and to give them the understanding, nurturing and healing they deserve. If you don’t or more accurately, won’t, you’ll never be able to develop the inner resources you need to accept your past and move on.

This type of personal work is essential if you want to stop getting into the same old conflicts, relationships, dramas and disagreements time and time again. If you won’t confront those old ghosts from the past, you’ll carry on subconsciously being drawn to events or people that bring them to your attention until you finally learn your lesson.

This is crucial for conflict because it’s an aspect of how we relate to ourselves, others and our world. Many of our disagreements are made more potent by our emotions. They colour our experiences of other people and guide our preferences about them. But what we may not be aware of is that those emotions are actually linked to childhood hurts that we haven’t healed and that’s why we feel anxious, angry or uncomfortable. It’s not really about the person you are in conflict with, they’ve just become a symbol for the pain you haven’t yet discovered, understood or made peace with.

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When we feel anxious or fearful, we may react in anger to a person about to end a relationship with us. We may have the same reaction to somebody criticising us or even to something that on the face of it, isn’t confrontational. In a former job, I did some work for John, a more senior colleague of mine in a different department. He was much more experienced than I was and had a wealth of knowledge. When I presented him with the completed task, he pointed out some areas that were incorrect. He wasn’t rude, aggressive or arrogant, he just wanted the work to be as best as it could be. I snapped angrily at him a response. It just reflected how painful this experience was. I couldn’t pinpoint what had made me so angry at the time but I did realise sometime later. As I write, I’m remembering the wounds I have healed since this point. Many of my reactions were similar to this with any kind of men before I dealt with those demons.

Once you have identified what those inner emotional knots are, you need to grieve what you didn’t have as a child or what was lost. This is the only route to healing no matter how hard, how challenging, how destabilising this is. Compassionate honesty is the only way.

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Here are some of our main fears and what you need to grieve to let them go. It might help to pause and reflect after you have read them to see how they relate to your own life.

  • Risk taking or doing something new can bring up a fear of failure or change. If you aren’t successful, what you really fear is the pain of failing. You may have to grieve a childhood that didn’t have supportive, loving, accepting parents who nurtured your growth but instead made you feel unworthy in some way.
  • Revealing something about your identity. You fear that if you show somebody your vulnerability, needs, wants, thoughts, they may not like you anymore. This could manifest as trying hard to please people or a lack of confidence in social situations and few truly meaningful relationships. You may have to grieve the lack of praise, acceptance and approval in your childhood.
  • Being lonely. This fear is about being on your own which may feel sad and could relate to feelings of rejection and abandonment. You could distract yourself from that through work, endless social activities and hobbies or being constantly in relationships just because you need human contact. Your grief work here may be linked to an isolated, lonely childhood in which either one of your parents or neither of them were able to bond with you profoundly. This too may have felt like rejection.
  • Intimate relationships. If you fear being abandoned or being deprived of your freedom, failure or betrayal, you’re unlikely to commit to a loving partner or even to a friend. Dominating parents have this effect or parents who were emotionally or physically absent as well as events linked to betrayal or a lack of approval and acceptance.

In many cases, these fears are linked to each other. Ideally, you will get to a point where talking about them does not feel shameful, sad, overwhelming or any other emotional responses that are difficult to contain. When you are in this space, your willingness to engage or react to drama will decrease significantly. You may even find that you no longer have anything in common with certain people, old hobbies become uninteresting and unnecessary and you become your new best friend.

This is a powerful and painful journey but one that is necessary if you want to progress emotionally and in any other way.

David Richo is a personal hero of mine and writes extensively on this topic. Find out more about his work here.

What are you most afraid of and how have you overcome them? How did this impact upon your life? Feel free to leave a comment!

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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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.

Photo by malcolm garret on

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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