Kindness is not something that you would associate with conflict. As I have written previously, it can be used as a strategy to stop conflict from escalating and to resolve it. Its power is in recognizing the harm that has been caused and attempting to put it right. It lets all people affected by the conflict know that you see them as human beings and because you recognize their humanity, you want to put a stop to their suffering.
The sad reality of our conflicts is that we often react in an unkind manner because we are in pain. We want to inflict that pain on others by blaming , criticizing, attacking and finding ways to explain the other person’s actions in a way that makes us unaccountable. We’ve all done it. When I see somebody flouting the social distancing rules or not wearing a mask, I often find myself thinking, “what an idiot,” or angrily staring at them which is supposed to somehow communicate my disapproval. I very rarely ask myself why I feel I have authority to cast judgment on others!
The Characteristics of Kindness
I often think of kindness as a practice rather than a single act. It starts with an intention to alleviate suffering. This intention may move you to do something compassionate. The aim of this practice is to extend the same intention to everyone, whether or not you are in conflict. It’s just that bit harder within this context, for obvious reasons. But it is possible.
This blog post is about giving you practical tips about how you might act in a kind way towards a person you are in conflict with. It’s not about being ‘good’ or people pleasing. Acting kindly is a mature and balanced way to reduce and resolve conflict as it minimizes the stress and anxiety that hostility can create and allows clear communication. You can still be assertive and kind. You can still be strong and kind and you can still disagree, even argue but be kind. Here are seven ways to do that.
- Be kind to yourself first. This is about understanding when you need a break if you feel overwhelmed in a conversation or an argument. It’s always helpful to get some distance, take a pause and re-evaluate what is happening for you at that moment. If you can, communicate this to the other person by saying something like, “I feel too angry to talk about this and I need a break. Please let’s discuss this tomorrow.” This is also about putting strong boundaries in place and understanding when you are about to say something you may regret because your emotions are high.
- Be curious about your own behaviour. This includes your perceptions as well as the ways that you have dehumanized the other person. Do you think that the other person is inferior in some way? Do you feel victimised? Is it possible that your actions, in some way, may have contributed and is it possible that the other person may have their own perspective?
- If you feel that you may have done something wrong, a powerful act of kindness is one that seeks to put that right. Consider an apology or if you can’t yet say those words, acknowledge that the other person may also be suffering. In any conflict, we all do things that upset or anger the other person and an apology can help to heal hurt feelings and to mark the start of a new relationship. It also recognizes that you value the other person.
- Tell the other person your intention to resolve the conflict without causing harm. You can do this with constructive communication, expressing how you feel and asking questions of the other person to understand how they see the conflict. These questions should be open, neutral and whatever the response is, sit with it and digest it. If you respond with blame or statements intended to defend yourself, you need to take a break and come back to the conversation when you are able to listen without judgment. This is a good way of responding to a person’s opinion you just can’t agree with.
- Always speak politely and respectfully. Insults and offensive comments will destroy any attempts to resolve conflict especially when you are in conflict with somebody you care about. It goes without saying but sometimes, this is really hard to do. If you are finding this difficult, write down what you want to say. You can write what you want to yourself but if you intend to write to the other person, make it about your feelings and keep your language blame free and polite.
- Put yourself in their shoes. It is very likely that the other person will be feeling something negative about the conflict, just as you are. It is also very likely that they want it to end. If you are able to, try to remember that we have all made mistakes and done something which we feel embarrassed about. More importantly, we are all just doing the best we can in life and sometimes, we get things wrong. When you begin to see people (and yourself!) as imperfect beings, conflicts can become less emotional.
- Disengage if you can’t be kind. Some conflicts are more difficult to resolve than others and I am not suggesting for one second that this is easy. It’s not. It takes a great deal of strength and courage to be kind to somebody who has hurt you. If you are not there yet, my advice is to simply do nothing. Don’t respond to emails, walk away when you see them in public, go to a different part of the house for a while or if you’re in a zoom meeting, use the mute button ! This will limit damage and preserve your dignity.
Do you agree? Feel free to leave and comment and let me know!