When we are upset, we tend to attack. We see this all around this. I once learned a valuable lesson from a dog that showed me what can happen when we choose to respond in a different way.
I was visiting a relative who had a large dog. The dog was very friendly, although she looked quite fierce. I wasn't paying much attention to where I was stepping when all of a sudden I felt some movement under my foot and heard a whimper. I looked down and saw that I had accidentally stepped on the dog's paw! I apologized to the dog and tried to soothe her by stroking her fur.
While thinking of that situation, the dog could have, while in pain, anger, and fear, bit me and then barked at me for accidentally stepping on her paw. With her big jaw and sharp teeth, she could have left quite a mark on my leg. Had she done that, I may not have stopped to investigate why she bit me. I may have just focused on my own injury and reacted in anger: How could this dog bite me? What did I do to it? This dog needs to be trained better! This dog needs to be isolated before it hurts anyone else! Thankfully, this was not the result because the dog expressed her hurt by voicing it calmly and I heard it and responded by realizing my error (accidentally stepping on her paw) and stopping my error. We drew close to each other at the end of this situation.
With our loved ones, especially with our significant other, when we are upset, we tend to go into default mode: release our anger on them and criticize their being. While this is common and natural to do, would you say it has led to greater peace, teamwork, and a solution?
For most of us, the answer is no. We want to be heard, have our feelings validated, have our input and opinion respected, and feel close to our loved one. All of these are positive results we want, but the way we communicate our needs may be pushing others away and leading them to build up walls as a defense. Although this may be your current experience, the good news is that it doesn't have to stay that way.
Small changes can led to the bigger results we desire. Consider making these small changes:
- Pause and check your feelings, how your body feels, and thoughts. If you are in "fight" mode, it is not a helpful time to talk. Take a breather to cool down and consider the others' perspectives.
- Don't try to be a mind reader. Choose to hold off on any assumptions and give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Keep in mind: The person most likely is not intentionally trying to annoy or harm you. There are some parts of the situation you may not know.
- Reflect and answer these to yourself: What am I feeling? What upset me? What am I needing? What role, however tiny, may have contributed to the situation?
- Remember these: What bothers you is important to you. Otherwise, you it wouldn't bother you. Why does this bother you? There are many approaches to come to a positive outcome. Remind yourself of your core needs (which include love, respect, security) and how a gentle approach to addressing a situation can help set you up for a higher likelihood of a positive outcome than an angry, critical approach.
- Check in with the person to ask it's a good time to talk. If it isn't, schedule a time. Avoid talking while one is driving or when it's too close to bedtime.
- Share your feeling, your observations, your core need/concern, and offer a request for a change of behavior, and ask to hear the other person's perspective.
- Listen without interrupting. Take turns. Use a timer (2 minutes at a time) if needed.
- Consider asking to brainstorm solutions together. Write down all ideas without criticizing or evaluating them until all ideas are shared.
- Check your emotions and actions. If you or the other start getting into an angry "fight" mode, take a break and schedule when to reconvene.
- Choose to show appreciation and respect in the midst of the situation. Dig deep and keep digging till you find what you can appreciate and respect about the person. Communicate these to the other with sincerity.