By Dana Asby, Education Coordinator, New England Mental Health Technology Transfer Center
The holidays are full of excitement, joy, and togetherness. The rushing to and from holiday events, shopping for last minute gifts, and preparing the house for guests can be a source of fun and stress. When we’re in a heightened state of stress, especially for a long period of time, we may find ourselves getting into conflicts more frequently. If we use positive communication and emotional regulation skills, we can reduce the amount of conflict we experience this holiday season. If we learn healthy conflict resolution skills, we won’t be able to avoid conflict, but we can resolve it compassionately and even learn from our differences with others.
Reducing Conflict Before it Starts
When we experience extreme stress or have a prolonged period of stress, our brains don’t function as well. You may have noticed that it’s harder to make wise decisions, remember important tasks, or plan your day efficiently when you’re feeling stressed. That’s because the part of the brain in charge of these executive functions shuts down in periods of crisis so that the “lizard brain” can take over and ensure survival. This means that our fight, flight, or freeze response is more sensitive, and we may respond to even neutral situations as if we are being attacked. Understanding this about our brain can empower us to interrupt this stress response cycle to bring us back to a state of calm and presence. Practicing mindfulness regularly to find that calm through breathwork, meditation, or yoga can help us restore our executive functions, slow the stress response cycle, reduce our level of stress in general, and engage in conflict from a place of wisdom and neutrality.
Coming into any conversation with more calm will help us reduce the number of conflicts we experience. Another way to encounter fewer conflicts is to improve your listening skills. Miscommunication is the cause of most conflicts, so if we slow down and truly listen to one another, we might find that we are at least in the same chapter, if not on the same page.
Actively and Reflectively Listen:
Make eye contact and relax your body language.
Resist the urge to interrupt or fill in the blanks and truly listen to the words you are hearing.
Remove judgment, especially about the other person’s emotional experience.
Repeat what you believe the other person said and get confirmation that you understood.
Validate their emotions and inquire to learn more.
Addressing Conflict with Compassion
Even if we establish a consistent mindfulness practice to reduce our stress, we will encounter conflict. Conflict is a natural part of the human experience. It helps us grow and learn and can motivate us to make positive changes. Understanding how to navigate conflicts compassionately can help us find its positive aspects. In this webinar Conflict Resolution in Schools, we provide some helpful strategies to address conflict mindfully. Below are a few.
S.T.O.P. When Conflict Arises
Stop: Pause what you are doing.
Take a breath.
Observe what’s going on in your body and environment.
De-Escalate During a Conflict
Be aware of tone, volume, word choice, and body language.
Ask open-ended questions.
Emotion Coach After a Conflict
Make eye contact and use gentle physical touch if appropriate.
Validate emotions that arose.
Brainstorm solutions that might have solved the problem more effectively.
Make amends for any inappropriate tone, volume, or choice words.
We can’t avoid conflict, and we shouldn’t want to! If you use healthy stress management skills, you may be able to reduce the amount of conflict you encounter and be better prepared to respond compassionately when it does arise. If you take the time to reflect and debrief after a conflict, you may even be able to learn from the experience and use those lessons to strengthen your relationship and avoid similar conflicts in the future.