In the midst of a very hard conversation recently, I had the incredible urge to smile and pat myself on the shoulder. I suppressed it – it was just not the right moment. 😊 Mind if I share why?
For the longest time, I was afraid of conflict and getting into arguments. Not just afraid. Petrified. In fact, I was so averse to any conflict that I’d rather walk away from relationships where I didn’t know how to deal with anger and conflict.
In high school, I acquired an unpleasant hang-up about it. I can remember getting the label “tweegesig” in my home language Afrikaans – which means “two faced”. I got that label because I could always, always, always understand both (or all) sides of a story. I could never choose sides between people – because truly, I could see and empathise with all points of view.
Obviously, it wasn’t acceptable in my school mates’ eyes – they wanted me to choose sides and I just couldn’t! I felt blamed and judged much of the time and ended up trying to hide or ignore that part of me. And felt bad about.
And then…. many, many years later at the age of around 46, I heard about the body of work called Strengths. It was eye-opening to hear that I had strengths that were needed in the world – that they were unique and celebrated. I heard about things that were right with me, not things that were wrong with me.
I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw that one of my talents is “Harmony”. The coach who introduced me to my Gallup (Clifton) Strengths had me in tears because she helped me to see, for the first time ever, that my ability to see all sides of a story is a strength and not a terrible flaw in my personality.
I cannot even begin to describe the freedom and lightness that I felt hearing that… YEARS of judging myself dropped off my shoulders in that coaching session. It took quite a few weeks to fully integrate and accept the new way of seeing myself.
And, here’s what I realised.
I discovered that this talent of Harmony needed some knowledge and skill to truly bring its gifts into the world.
People with high Harmony are excellent mediators and can help bring peace into relationships. But not without the skills to do so.
All my life I’d run away from conflict and avoided it like the plague. Whereas the truth was – this Harmony talent could help bring people together and create win-win situations.
Someone with a natural talent for music needs to also learn at least some skill to be excellent at their craft. When we listen to a concert pianist, a lot of it is talent, and even more of that inspired performance is due to knowledge, skill and mastery (and mastery requires hours and hours of practice).
Those were the pieces I lacked. And I decided there and then I’d make it my mission to really let this talent of mine play fully. I had to learn what I had to, to bring more peace into the world.
I admit, it took me a while. I was still scared of getting into arguments and lost 2 precious friendships before I could bring myself to do something concrete about it.
Can you identify? When we’re really, really scared of something bad happening, it’s far easier to ignore it than to face it head-on.
In the past 2 years I’ve learned huge amounts about effective communication, bringing up the Elephant in the Room, and having difficult or uncomfortable conversations. And thinking about it today, it feels so freeing and wonderful to not want to run at the first whiff of a disagreement.
A few days ago my husband and I had to have a very difficult conversation about things bothering us both (yes, we’re human too!). In the middle of it, I suddenly realised that I didn’t have the pounding heart, red face and the feeling like something terrible would happen if I speak my truth.
So yes – this was the conversation I mentioned right at the start. I wanted to smile and celebrate – because I noticed the difference.
That was such a brilliant realisation for me. Yes, we created a safe space for the conversation, as we had done many times in the past, and yet – this time there was hardly any fear. Other times, I took me ages to say what was bothering me – because I was afraid he’d explode or disagree, and it would end in a disaster.
I’m very excited about this progress in myself.
One of the key ingredients for me was to learn how to have a conversation that was safe and in the best interest of both people. There are simple things that can help such a conversation to flow and obtain the very best outcome.
A few things we have to know:
- How to prepare for it
- The attitude to keep in mind ahead of and during an interaction
- The key ingredients and steps necessary for the conversation
- How to keep yourself safe
- How to feel calm and manage the fight-flight-freeze response (that makes our mouth dry, our heart pound and our legs feel like jelly)
Once I understood (and could practice) these points, these types of conversations mostly lost their ability to induce complete terror and the “Get me out of here NOW!” feeling.
I’m by no means perfect at them yet. There is a lot for me to practice after 50 years of avoidance, and every situation is different. After years of not knowing how on earth to deal with it, this feels like such delightful progress. I’m very grateful to have learned that it’s possible to shift this thing that I used to think was an incorrigible flaw!
How does conflict sit with you?
Maybe you have a deep desire, too, for peace in your relationships. And maybe you, too, are afraid of talking about the hard stuff in case it rocks the boat, and the other person doesn’t like what you have to say.
I truly understand those fears.
And I can let you know from personal experience on both sides, that the way to deal with this issue is not to keep avoiding conflict. That has a huge negative impact on your health, your mental and emotional state, your relationships and your enjoyment of life.
If you’d like to learn the skill of bringing peace and harmony to situations through handling difficult conversations beautifully, I’m excited to let you know that Alison Gitelson and I are teaming up again to teach these ingredients and steps. Our workshop “How to Have a Difficult Conversation with Courage” is a wonderful place to experience emotional safety while learning about difficult conversations.
Want to join us in August 2018?