If I’m actively typing while you’re talking, I’m probably trying to tell you something, you know?
Quick: think about the most difficult person in your life right now. You know, the one you can’t stop picking random fights with in your head. The one you’d like to provide with very specific instructions about how they need to change RIGHT NOW.
Could be a co-worker (it’s often a co-worker), a family member (it’s even more often a family member), a friend, or an acquaintance you see every now and again who really gets under your skin.
Doesn’t matter, just pick the one that sticks to you the most.
Now I want to talk to you about how to change your relationship with this person without ever saying a single word to them about it.
I’m serious. Stay with me for a minute.
As human beings, we experience conflict with other people all the time. I believe there are three general ways to deal with such conflict:
- Deal with the problem directly by speaking with the person and talking through differences.
- Avoid the person and/or any direct conversation about the conflict whatsoever, opting instead for one of the many reactions available at the Coping Mechanisms Buffet: passive aggressive behavior, plain old aggressive behavior, avoidance, substance use, shopping, etc. The options are virtually endless.
When dealing with conflict, most human beings tend to use the buffet strategy. This is because talking to people with whom we’re having conflict is: a) hard and uncomfortable and b) rarely a skill we are taught or witness as children. So, we simply find other ways of dealing.
These ways may work for a while to distract us or make us feel like we have the upper hand. But they do absolutely nothing in the long run to fix the situation itself. And similar to a buffet, such strategies can also leave us feeling uncomfortable and more than a little regretful when all is said and done.
But fear not! There is a third way.
One that involves neither direct communication nor a box of doughnuts.
It’s like a Jedi mind trick for difficult people.
Stay with me here.
I’ve learned over the years that any interaction between two people brings its own particular energy. To get a sense of what I’m talking about, close your eyes for a second and bring someone in your life to mind. Pick a name, any name.
How does your body feel when you think about this person?
Now think about a few other people in your life and repeat the exercise for each.
I’m guessing that the feelings were different for each person. Perhaps you tensed up thinking about person A, while your body went all relaxin’-on-the-beach-with-a-good-book for person B.
As a helpful reminder, I do absolutely no scientific research for my blogs because I don’t want to. But I can say with some certainty that I’m pretty sure science has been and continues to bear evidence of the energy that exists between any two living (and sometimes non-living) things. You know, neurons, synapses, quantum physics, whatever.
Relationships and people are no different.
With this idea in mind, we can choose a new path when things get a bit difficult on the relationship side.
We can delve more deeply into this energy and see whether releasing a little bit of it from our side helps to alter the overall energy of the situation.
For example. A co-worker – we’ll call her Judy – likes to come into your office every afternoon and sit for 30 minutes to tell you all about her health problems and complain about the lack of work ethic in the office while you sit there screaming about irony inside your head.
We’ve all had a Judy, haven’t we?
As you continue to remain seated and say nothing, a massive resentment begins to take shape as a giant ball of nerves in your stomach.
This, friends, is energy.
And we can do something about it without ever telling Judy the cold, hard truth of the situation. Hurray!
Instead of stewing endlessly and overdosing on Tums, try this:
- Sit quietly for a moment and breathe. (Previous readers will recognize this as an optional step. If it makes you uncomfortable, skip it.)
- Bring “Judy” (i.e., any person you are struggling with) to mind.
- Ask yourself what belief is keeping you from kicking Judy to the curb each afternoon. (e.g., I can’t be rude, I am afraid of conflict). Identify where this feeling lives in your body (e.g., My stomach feels upset, there is a lump in my throat.) And then just sit with that feeling for a moment.
- Say to yourself “THIS is what needs healing, not Judy’s attitude.” (note: Judy’s attitude may in fact need a major adjustment, but we’re going to stick with what we can control.)
- Ask this feeling what it needs in order to heal. Perhaps it needs to feel safe. Maybe it needs comfort. Or perhaps it just needs a little attention from you. Try to provide yourself with that thing.
- Repeat this exercise as often as possible and see what happens.
Over time, in my own life, this exercise has had almost miraculous effects. That’s because the energy that exists between two people can only exist if both parties choose to engage in it.
As I have learned to sit with the feelings of discomfort that a given person brings out in me – anger, anxiety, etc. – and truly listen to it, my relationship with the other person has changed on its own.
A difficult person I would see everywhere disappeared from my path. I simply stopped thinking about the family member I couldn’t stop picking mental fights with. And Judy moved down the hall to a co-worker who needs to do her own energy work.
Give it a try and let me know what happens. You might even find that, after doing this exercise for a bit, you’re able to have hard conversations or speak up.
But at the very least, you’ll be sitting and listening to your feelings. Which is usually preferable to overdoing it at the buffet.
Until next time,
To sign up for a free phone consultation and receive personal advice on becoming your own Jedi, visit www.gailcowan.com/schedule.