In life we can be faced with what seems like an impossible task, however, our brains reveal that we do such impossible things as a matter of course. When in conflict, people can feel that working with “the other side” in future is an impossibility. “How can I forget ‘X’?” However, we have evolved to hold two contradictory ideas in our head at the same time.
When we see an optical illusion our visual processing behaves as it is designed to and believes the trick (the Müller-Lyer Illusion). Our eyes tell us that the parallel lines are of different lengths.
When the basis of the illusion is explained to us, our conscious, rational mind can comprehend the underlying reason for our eyes being deceived. We interpret the visual information on the basis of our previous experience. With the rational understanding that the lines are of equal length we can look again at the illusion.
However, when we return to the illusion, we experience the dissonance of experiencing the illusion again and at the same time we know that we are being tricked. We are able to hold the contradiction between the illusion and the reality in our mind simultaneously.
In the same way, parties locked in a dispute may struggle with their ability to:
The truth is our brains are equipped to hold such contradictory ideas in place at the same time. Doing so enables us to move forward with people even when we feel this should be impossible. Whether this requires us to try and co-parent or run a business together, the challenge is real, however, the feeling of impossibility is an illusion.
I have been reading and enjoying “Healing from Infidelity” by Michele Weiner-Davis. Whilst not everyone will experience infidelity in their marriage, Weiner Davis provides valuable tools which anyone can use to address adversity. Over the next few weeks, I will reflect on some of the lessons anyone facing difficulties can use to improve their situation.
Let your hopes, not your hurts shape your future
This quote is from Robert Schuller. When disappointment, loss or betrayal occur, we can focus on what has happened. Excessive rumination on negative emotions associated with the event can prevent healing and responsibility. Instead, we replay the hurts and blame. Whilst it is necessary to process negative events; it is also necessary to move on from them. As Schuller suggests we should not define ourselves by the wrongs we have suffered, instead we should allow our dreams to define our lives. How can this be done practically? Weiner-Davis suggests we can help ourselves by being specific. How does this work?
Moving from the vague to the specific helps to chart a course. Making positive statements to feel better is helpful as a general direction, and this needs to be supported with specific actions that we design and take responsibility for to create improvements.
The zinger leaves our lips and zooms towards the recipient. As the words leave our mouth there may be an instantaneous moment of regret, or it may be that later that day you take a moment to wince at what you said. For most people this is a recognisable experience, the feeling that you have said something in the heat of the moment which was ill-advised or hurtful or destructive. When we are frustrated and angry is reacting without thought inevitable?
Conflict coaching aims to provide skills for people in how to respond in conflict situations rather than react. Riskin and Wohl have identified Six Obstacles that we encounter when we are in conflict.
If these are the obstacles what do Riskin and Wohl recommend? They advocate for the use of mindfulness training to provide space and time for reflective responses. In essence they suggest making use of mindfulness techniques to take a step back from the situation, assess what is happening and your response and then refocus attention.
By assessing our bodily sensations (e.g. increased heart rate, faster and shallower breathing), our emotional response (e.g. anger, frustration, disappointment) and our thoughts (e.g. what are you noticing? Where is your attention?) we can determine, what is happening for us in conflict situations. Just the act of slowing down from delivering a reaction to give time to assess and consider how we are feeling can make a significant difference to how we respond. Next time you encounter conflict, take a moment to assess and consider how you may frame a response rather than reacting.