Walking up to your run of the mill government office with a bitter and unhelpful employee, you know you’re in for a little bit of a struggle.
You need to get your papers done, but you know she’s not interested in helping you just from seeing her unhappy face.
You hand over the documents and she stares. You explain what you need, she says she can’t help you.
Your blood boils in ten micro-seconds, and before you know it you’re screaming.
“How dare she?!”
It’s unforgivable that she would say “no” before even thinking about your request. It’s unforgivable that she would ruin your day and waste your time just because she doesn’t want to read what’s in front of her.
And so you let her have it.
Reminiscent of the incredible hulk, you are overtaken by an uncontrollable force that cannot be tamed. Your brain takes a step back to watch your meltdown with awe and horror, unable to do anything about it.
Eventually you return to your own mind and assess the damage. Now you’re the crazy person. Now you’re the one who is wrong. It doesn’t matter that you had a valid reason to be upset – you lost.
We all know what it’s like to be forced to “apologize” after an argument we should have won in the first place. We all know what it’s like to let our lower forces take control and make situations harder than they need to be.
This is a human weakness (more pronounced in some of us than others). Some are able to apologize and let go of the need to be right, while others refuse to admit that their temper has eliminated the value of their arguments.
They insist that their point of view still holds value (despite the outburst). I don’t believe that it does. And I’ve been the “explosive one” many times in my life.
What’s the solution? How do we even prevent outbursts from happening in the first place?
Some say it’s breathing. If you take a few deep breaths before beginning to react, you can make sure you don’t hop on the meltdown train before it’s too late. That’s close, but not exactly right. I’ve told myself countless times to take deep breaths before responding, but somehow I always forget to do it when it matters.
When the moment comes, that tiny piece of wisdom is nowhere to be found. My anger is more powerful than the life advice I get in “feel good” blog posts.
Others say it’s meditation, because science proves that it decreases cortisol or connects you with your deeper self or makes you less stressed or something along those lines.
All those things are probably true. I’ve meditated for three years, however, and I’ve still played a role in more than a few screaming matches.
If meditation, breathing, and thinking before you speak isn’t enough, what’s missing?
A personal commitment, here and now, to remember that you are never right in any argument. Because you are never right in any argument.
Even when someone has wronged you. Even when someone is delusional. Even when someone is out to get you and wants to harm you and doesn’t have one rational bone in their body. There is always something you are wrong about and something you could have done better.
There is always something you made a mistake in. There is always something you missed, something you could have done to prevent the unpleasant outcome.
This is not about letting people walk all over you. This is not about being a doormat. This is about understanding that all human conflicts are a breakdown in communication between two people who share equal responsibility in the miscommunication. Even when you’ve spent decades learning, growing, and exploring yourself, you can always do something that hurts someone, damages their life, or complicates their existence.
You can always do something that makes things worse. There is ALWAYS something to apologize for.
Conflict resolution is never about bringing your opponent fully to your side. Conflict resolution is always about two sides with valid perspectives coming to the middle – a place where they can see each other’s side with equal amounts of empathy and understanding. It doesn’t matter if your opponent has the ability to understand that. It doesn’t matter if your opponent refuses to empathize with you (like you once did).
It’s not about them.
It’s about you, and your ability to get something positive out of any argument. The road to that “zen-like” peace of mind is through empathy. With empathy, you not only prevent an escalation of conflict, you also help bring a resolution faster (even when empathy is lacking on the other side).
Empathy means you know that the roles of “helpless victim” and “unforgivable evildoer” do not exist.
You are right, but don’t get righteous, for you are also wrong (yet never fully at fault).
Remember: you can never be mad, because you are always wrong about something, and there is always something reasonable about your opponent’s argument. There is no reason to feel righteous. There is no reason to lash out.
What you do instead is think. Try to figure out how your actions could be out of sync with your intentions. Try to understand how your message is getting lost. Try to figure out new insights, and become a better person thanks to each experience of conflict.
Ask your opponent questions: what did I do to make you feel that way? What led you to think that this made the most sense? Where do we go from here?
Suddenly the other person feels valued. Instead of being told that they are stupid and have no right to act the way they did, they sense that you would have done the same in their shoes. And they’re able to see the ways in which you are also right.
They understand you’re at the same level. Slowly, compromise comes together on its own.
Think about all the things you have gained: self-improvement, empathy, and higher probability of consensus.
Isn’t that more valuable than being “right”? Even if you are?
Being “right” is overrated anyway.
Andrew Gabelic is the CEO & Founder of Teledipity, a free pocket life coach with an eerie ability to send you the right self-improvement content at the right time (based on your personality and life stage). Check out what it says about you!