Navigating Difficult Conversations with Your Higher Self: Communication for Conflict Resolution
Difficult conversations, situations, and people are all part of our normal day-to-day interactions. Unless we isolate ourselves from our community, misunderstandings and conflict are tough to avoid (and we shouldn’t avoid them – they help improve our character). However, it can often feel as if we are moving in circles, having the same arguments with the same people over and over, never reaching a resolution. This can be exhausting, discouraging, and may even lead to broken, unhealed relationships. But navigating difficult situations and conversations doesn’t have to remain unresolved. By connecting with our Higher Selves and diving mindfully into our communication styles, we can develop the skills and confidence to successfully navigate conflict and maintain our relationships.
Whether it’s tension with a colleague, a misunderstanding with a close friend, or recurring disagreements with a family member, our gut reaction is often based on communication patterns we learned from our upbringing and families. Depending on the examples we were exposed to as children, we may find ourselves raising our voices emotionally, becoming defensive, or speaking too authoritatively. We might also find ourselves ignoring issues and sweeping them under the proverbial rug in an attempt to avoid conflict, only to find them resurfacing as unhealed wounds months or even years later.
By working with the Higher Self to gain control of our emotions and identify speech issues and familial patterns, navigating conflict with even the most difficult people can be done successfully. This teaches us compassion for ourselves and others, decreases our anxiety over confrontation, and saves relationships that would otherwise be broken.
Mastering our emotions
Our emotional state has a powerful impact on the way we speak. Emotions such as anger, disappointment, and contempt can color our words with negativity. This, in turn, causes others to react negatively. Mirror neurons, or brain cells that enable us to understand and interpret the emotions and expressions of others, subconsciously trigger others to react just as you act. So, if you are upset, angered, or emotional, your counterpart will feel your energy and start to act the same way, in essence mirroring your behavior and speech. When both people have reached this point with negative tones, the conversation has taken a turn for the worse, and it will be tough to correct it unless we are skilled at calming ourselves down and taking a step back in the midst of an argument.
This is also why it’s important to hold off on trying to resolve conflict until emotions have subsided. Once we are free from the impact of our feelings (and likely our Ego), we can more clearly communicate, expressing ourselves ways that won’t cause others to feel defensive. Approaching a conversation clearly, calmly, and from neutral ground eliminates the often irreversible impacts of words loaded with anger, contempt, or resentment.
Is this easier said than done? Certainly. We are wired to react emotionally. In fact, when our feelings are heightened or escalate quickly, our bodies react physically. This reaction is called “Fight or Flight”, and is a natural, evolutionary, physiological response to stress or external threats. During Fight or Flight, you may feel your heart rate increase, breathing become more rapid, and muscles tense. You might feel as if you can no longer think straight or are losing touch with your environment. In essence, your body is priming you to either stay and fight the threat or flee from it, saving your life in a truly dire, life-threatening circumstance. This also arises when no dire threat exists, as our bodies are unable to distinguish between being chased down by a bear versus an emotional argument with a friend or colleague. This physical response is not ideal for resolving conflict in the modern world. We lose access to our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that rationalizes our thinking, which is exactly what we need when in conversation. Our bodies direct all resources towards essential functions, and unfortunately, the ability to think clearly and remain grounded isn’t one of them.
By working with our Higher Selves, can understand our emotional triggers and recognize Fight or Flight symptoms when they start to arise. One way to do so is to analyze our words and the energy behind them. Ask yourself if you have any regrets about what was said, and how it was said. If you do, then you likely did not convey the meaning you intended. The words might have been spoken out of heightened emotions, feelings, and perhaps even the Ego, and are at risk of being misinterpreted. By analyzing our emotions and feelings from the unbiased Higher Self perspective, we begin to better understand ourselves, our feelings, emotional triggers, and our subsequent actions. This deeper understanding of ourselves allows us to make necessary corrections and act from our Higher Self – with an understanding of ourselves and the other person. This knowledge applies to a spectrum of daily interactions, from casual conversations with strangers to intimate relationships with the loved ones.
The importance of tone of voice
Just like our emotional state, our tone of voice is far more important than we think. In fact, tone is often more important than our words. Think about it – saying “No” in a gentle, pleasant way is likely to be perceived completely different than saying “No!” in a harsh, angry way, right? Our tone projects the energy of our words and the recipient responds accordingly.
Our tone and inflection can also change based on who we are speaking to. Reflect on how you might speak to the CEO of the company you work for, versus how you would speak to the cashier at your local grocery store. Would your tone be different? Connect with your Wise Mind, and you will find that the answer is likely yes. You would speak to your CEO in a cordial yet respectful manner. While you might still be cordial to the cashier, your tone of voice may be more casual or even dismissive. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we change our conversational style. While this is a common habit, it is still one that we should work to overcome. Our goal should be that no matter whom we speak with, our tone of voice stays the same – warm and friendly while clear and direct.
The role of tone in conflict
Words can be misconstrued or misinterpreted solely based on tone – and this is even truer when in conflict. Before beginning any important conversation, particularly one that involves a disagreement, practice the following exercise adapted from Higher Self Yoga, Book 1, by Nanette V. Hucknall. It can be a very helpful way to ensure that the conversation is set in the right direction.
Take some time to think about the way you express yourself. If you are not certain, ask others how they feel when you talk to them. Ask them to be specific. For example:
- When I’m upset, how do I sound?
- When I’m trying to explain something to you, how do I sound?
- When I’m revealing something about myself, how do I sound?
- If I act emotionally, how do my words sound?
- If I’m calm, how do I sound?
- If I am trying to convey an idea of mine, how do I sound?
The exercise above can be eye-opening for self-awareness and how certain emotions impact our tone. Similarly, our physical and mental wellbeing also affect our speech. For example, when we are tired, sleepy, or stressed, we are more likely to be short and negative in our responses to others. When we are well-rested, refreshed, and at peace, we will approach even difficult conversations from a place of positivity. All the more reason to be mindful in conversation.
Repeating familial patterns
Our entire communication style is affected by what we’re exposed to during our formative years. Often, these patterns have been repeated for a long time, passed down and adopted throughout generations. Examine yourself using the exercise above, then examine the interactions you’ve had with your family. Do any of your family members speak in a way you find unfavorable? Do you speak the same way? Often, we repeat our family’s communication styles, even though we would prefer a more positive style. Alternatively, if we disliked or disagreed with a communication style, we might adapt our behavior to the opposite. For example, if you felt that your family members were too direct and forthcoming to the point of being rude, you might default to being passive and quiet. Working with your Higher Self on self-awareness opens doors for positive change.
Once we recognize these patterns and the roles they play in our lives, it’s important that we don’t become discouraged. Instead, we can use our knowledge to make positive changes so that our relationships are not impacted. For example, were your immediate family members generally positive, uplifting and encouraging? Or were they negative, argumentative, and angry? Observe your relationships with your spouse, partner, children, friends, and coworkers. Do you implement the same patterns, just in a different way? If you find the answer unfavorable, connect with your Higher Self and ask It to reveal ways you can overcome these patterns to bring lasting change and peace to your current relationships.
Stay tuned for part two in this series, “Navigating Difficult Conversations with Your Higher Self: Conflicted Relationships”.