This situation came up in my life the other day. I was working on a project, going about things in my normal fashion when suddenly the phone rang. The conversation quickly spiraled in to a barrage of criticism. Can you guess how the conversation ended? I bet it will surprise you.
The Old me would have quickly gone on the defense and immediately into victim mode with yelling, name calling, and counter-attacks. I mean, come on! Who is this person to just talk to me like this… Really?! Thankfully, the New me knows better: I listened to the condemnation, reflected to understand how I contributed to the situation, then responded from a higher plane of thinking.
That’s how I beat conflict.
Is it really as simple as 1… 2… 3? Yes and no, but mostly yes. How? Here is the thought process:
It’s not personal.
First off I reminded myself that criticism is not necessarily a reflection upon the PERSON, but rather is an indication of a need that is unmet. Plus, thanks to my experience working in customer service, I know that sometimes people just need to vent and happen to choose to vent to the unsuspecting and (sometimes) undeserving.
What’s the message that is really being communicated? How am I involved?
Secondly, I remembered what Stephen Covey taught in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood” (Covey, 1989). Listen, and then listen again. Given that the person was upset about an unmet need and I happened to be the person on the phone, I had to figure out to what degree I was connected and why they were calling me about the situation.
Let me say that it is completely possible for someone to ego-trip and spill their junk all over you. It never feels good when this happens but it is immeasurably important to remember to keep your cool and avoid sinking down to a lower level. Retaliation and judgement never make things better.
It’s hard to suck up your pride, shut up, and listen… but it can be done.
Is there an immediate solution available that will at least deescalate the situation?
Maybe it’s customer service that taught me this lesson so well or just the painful experience of trial and error, but acknowledgement and apology go a long way. Oftentimes hearing someone and acknowledging their circumstances will curb the negativity quickly. Apologies acknowledge the pain being experienced by the other person. Remember when you fell down and you wanted Mommy to kiss your owie? When we become grown we forget how good it makes the pained person feel to know someone cares about the hurt.
Some people misinterpret apologies as admission of guilt which I don’t think is always the case. There can be apologies of guilt and apologies of empathy. Use your discretion to determine what type of apology to make but always be sincere. Apologize sincerely, apologize quickly, and make sure you’re apologizing for the right thing.
What are possible solutions to this issue?
Finally, look for solutions to remedy the situation that will help to support both parties. When you accept that your core is love and that nobody can remove that from you, it becomes easier to disassociate from the attack itself and find win-win solutions. Coming to an agreeable conclusion may not be immediately available and may take a little while, but actively working toward a resolution must be a priority.
The moral of this story is that beating criticism in conflict doesn’t mean besting another person; beating a conflict means keeping both boats afloat during the storm. Winning is staying on top of the basic, low-level, egoic pain-body; winning is accepting that who you both are at your essential core is pure love, and completely assuming that feeling in your communication and behavior.
It’s like the old Serenity Prayer says: Accept the things you cannot change (an upset individual), have courage to change the things you can (apologizing when necessary), and have the wisdom to know the difference (between acting from the ego and acting from love).