Quote of the Month
Timeless insights from wise souls
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony..”
What's on my mind this month
What's on my mind this month
1. Transforming relationships with deep listening
When you want to de-escalate conflict, one of the first steps is to listen deeply. That means listening for the purpose of understanding the other person, not simply preparing your reply. I know that may sound obvious, but absorbing that simple piece of wisdom dramatically improved the way I act in conflict. Previously, I thought the main purpose of talking with someone in the midst of a disagreement was to prove to the other person I was right and they were wrong. But I’ve learned that finding a solution depends on understanding the other person’s perspective as clearly as I know my own. Making a human connection with them doesn’t hurt either. And deep listening helps you do both.
How do you do it? Having the goal of understanding is a first step. A second step is to keep being curious, rather than reverting to judgment or criticism. Pay attention to the other person, not just the words but the body language and silences and tone of voice. Fight the impulse to interrupt. Just take in what is being said, verbally and nonverbally. Acknowledge what you hear by repeating back to the person the essence of what they communicated to you, using your own words. Without arguing, or adding your point of view, simply let them know that you understood.
You’ll know you’ve gotten the hang of deep listening when the other person is talking much more than you are, sharing more, going into things. If you’re drifting into your own thoughts, they may shut down, feel upset, share less, be short. Staying connected takes practice. But you’ll learn to listen, to let the other person lead.
I’m an attorney who likes to jump in, get to the bottom of things and prove a point, but I’ve found that it’s far more efficient and effective to listen with the goal of hearing the other person, and making them feel heard. When that happens, they feel better after speaking with you, not worse. And that’s a huge first step in de-escalating conflict. Americans pay therapists billions of dollars each year for the sole purpose of wanting to be heard and feel better, and it’s possible to learn to listen like a therapist. I use deep listening to make the other person feel better before I give advice, or state my position. It’s been challenging, but it has changed my conversations tremendously. I encourage you to try it and see how it impacts your conflict-resolutions skills.
2. How to embrace and harness your anxiety
High-conflict divorces are filled with confrontations, and with anxiety about what will or won’t happen next. Coming from a family that was deeply affected by a highly anxious parent, I’ve long paid attention to the impact anxiety can have on people under pressure. I’ve come to realize that in a contentious divorce, managing anxiety is as important as legal strategies and custody arrangements. This New York Times articleoffers three ways to harness the power of this difficult emotion and even make it an ally.
* First, think of anxiety as a signal to pay attention to what’s going on. A person in a high-conflict divorce can use anxious feelings as a cue that they’re being triggered and may say or do something they regret.
* Second, label the feeling behind the behavior that’s causing anxiety. Is it a desire for freedom or control? Is it pain?
* Third, aim for the sweet spot in dealing with that underlying feeling. How can you offer incremental steps with the other person so that their anxiety is not overwhelming? For example, if the other person wants sole custody of the children, would they agree to ”spheres of influence,” where each of you makes certain final decisions that are important to you? If the person really only wants sole custody because of education and health concerns, they may be willing to give you “custody” over some of the many other decisions parents make for their children.
3. We believe our own reality, independent of how distorted that reality appears to others.
There’s a Zen tale of a lion who was convinced that he was the ruler of the animal kingdom. One day, in need of a pick-me-up, he went around and asked other animals who they believed was the king of the jungle. First, he went to a bear: “Who is the king of the jungle?” asked the lion. The bear replied, “Of course it’s you. No one else but you, sir.” The lion roared happily.
Then he met up with a tiger and asked, “Who is the king of the jungle, tiger?” The tiger quickly responded, “All of us know that you are the king.” The lion roared with delight.
Next he ran into an elephant and asked him the same question: “Who is the king of the jungle, elephant?” The elephant trumpeted angrily with raised trunk, then grabbed the lion, launched him into the air and threw him into a tree. It stomped the big cat, then dumped him into a muddy river, holding it under the water so the lion couldn’t breathe. Finally, point made, the elephant dragged the lion through the mud and left him strewn over some shrubs. Battered and bruised, the lion looked up at the elephant and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer, there’s no reason for you to be so mean-spirited about it.”
Many people in high-conflict divorces are like the lion, holding on to their own personal logic, illogical as it may appear to others. Instead of attempting to change, they insist on the status quo, even if means they’ll be dragged through the mud and miserable. For instance, I see hard-charging executive parents who demand 50-50 parenting because “that’s what I deserve,” even though they know they’ll wind up outsourcing their parenting time to nannies, and even though the other parent works less and could better meet the needs of the children with personal care. A hard-charging parent like that wants to be king; they want to win. Even when “winning” means everyone will lose.
If you don’t want to be that person, blinded by your own version of reality, it may be time to think about change. I recommend a book called The Leader on the Couch: A Clinical Approach to Changing People and Organizations.by Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries.
Out of Office:
Life & Culture
Learning a Foreign Language in 30 Minutes of Downtime a Day: This year I realized that I could use my daily dog walks to learn a foreign language with the Pimsleur method. If you like learning in a way that’s self-paced, easy to follow, and fun, you will love the Pimsleur approach. It’s also available on Audible. Check it out here.
You may think you have no time for yourself when you’ve been swallowed up by conflict. But look for islands of time like dog-walking or commuting when you can learn a language or listen to music or watch a video. It’s an escape. Self-care. Essential.