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8 Simple Steps to Resolve Any Conflict Like a Zen Master

8 Simple Steps to Resolve Any Conflict Like a Zen Master

If you’re like most people, you dread conflict. Your ears burn and you start to sweat just thinking about it. It’s a combat zone, where somebody wins and somebody loses. Somebody’s right, and somebody’s wrong. Maybe you avoid conflict, fearing hurt feelings, bruised egos and lost tempers. Or do you go at it like a blood sport, so focused on winning that you take out anyone in your path?

But you may have seen a few people who are able to handle conflict differently. They stay cool without stonewalling, With their guidance, hidden problems come to light. Innovative solutions develop to resolve issues that festered for years. These Conflict Masters even manage to turn a conflict into a pleasurable experience.

How do they do it?

They use the following 7 simple steps, and so can you.

1. Assume that others aren’t hell-bent on destroying all you hold dear.

Whenever you find yourself in a conflict, remind yourself that a logical reason must be driving the other person.

All human beings are trying to do one thing: meet their inborn needs. We must meet our needs to survive, and we will do anything to get these needs met, even violate our morals or cause harm. (Explains why people can do incredibly dumb or destructive things.)

The intent behind every action, then, is a positive: to get their needs met. It’s the exact thing you are trying to do, so how can you be upset about that?

This is not to say that what they are doing is right.  By starting with the assumption of positive intent, though, you give yourself a place of commonality and decency to start from, no matter how bad things seem.

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2. Respectfully, shut your pie hole

Most of us spend our time in conflict trying to prove why we are right and trying to anticipate what the other person will say so we can refute it. This means we rarely listen, therefore we rarely understand what is really going on. So we rarely find long-term, empowering solutions.

We rehash the same conflicts over and over because they never get down to the core issue.

Save countless hours and reduce your stress by investing the time to seek understanding first.

3. Bust out your Sherlock hat.

Imagine that you are a detective.

What’s it like to be in their shoes? How has this issue affected their life? What makes things better or worse? What do they think started the problem? How would they want it resolved? How might their life improve if you could see things from their perspective?

Engage your thoughtful curiosity with one goal: to understand the other person’s world.

4. Get Zen-like.

It took me a while to understand what people meant by “your Center”, but I get it now. Your Center is a spot about two inches above your belly button. It is a source of great power, both physically and psychically.

When you listen from your head, your brain starts commenting and analyzing the correctness of the information. You don’t fully listen. When you listen from your heart, your emotions can get triggered, making you defensive so that you can’t fully understand the other person. And you don’t fully listen.

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But when you listen from your Center, it allows you to simply absorb information without taking it personally, so you can fully listen.

Imagine that you are literally taking in the sound through your Center into your stomach so that you can digest them before you respond.

It’s an entirely new experience.

5. Like a good math student, go back and check your work.

Check to see if you understand them correctly, and use their words.

If they say, “I’m pissed that you ate all the donuts and left nothing for anyone else like you always do,” don’t tell them, “It sounds like you’re mad.”

No, “pissed” and “mad” aren’t the same thing.

Say, “So what I think I understand now is that you are pissed that I ate the donuts, and you feel that I always do things like that.” Then take that into your Center again. Don’t judge it; just absorb it. Something strange just might happen. You might begin to accept that this is how they feel, whether it’s right or not. It’s hard to fight against other people’s feelings or perceptions of the world.

What are you going to say? “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Who are you to tell me how I should feel about anything?

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All that’s left to say is, “Ok, I understand that’s how you feel. If you’re open to it, I could share with you how I experienced this.”

6. Invite them to walk in your shoes (or stilettos).

Don’t try to tell them why you are justified — you are justified in feeling whatever you feel. That is not something anyone needs to defend. Instead, simply explain what you have experienced. You want to offer them the opportunity to see your world too. Use descriptive “I” statements, not accusatory “you” statements.

To continue the donut example, you could say, “I hear that you’re pissed I ate all the donuts. After working for eight hours and not eating, I ate all three of them without even thinking. I didn’t do it with malicious intent. It hurts to hear that you think I’m selfish. Is that what you really think of me?”

Isn’t that much better than, “Well, you didn’t make me anything to eat, and I was starving, so, yeah, I ate them. If you had thought of me for a change, I wouldn’t have eaten your three precious donuts.”

7. VOMP it out

VOMP is an acronym for a formula to help deal productively with conflict.

  • Voice your concerns/experience: “I ate all three donuts after working without eating anything else.”
  • Own your responsibility in the issue: “I didn’t clean up or leave any donuts for you.”
  • eMpathize with the other person: “I understand that you were looking forward to one of those donuts, and it made you feel like I don’t think about you.”
  • Plan for what will change in the future: “I want to find ways to make sure you know how much I love and appreciate you. Even if I eat everything in the house, I want you to know I think of you, would do anything for you, and that I am grateful for all you do for me. What could I do differently to make that real for you?”  Then negotiate a specific, actionable plan that will work for both parties.

8. Remember you aren’t Chicken Little and the sky is not falling

I want the lights on, and you want the lights off. If we both really want it our way, a conflict will arise.

What does that mean? Does it mean we hate each other, that we have a bad relationship, that you have commitment issues, that I am selfish, that secretly everyone’s been wanting the lights off my entire life and that’s why previous relationships haven’t worked out?

No, it means we want different things at the same time. That’s all conflict means.

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Be very careful not to make disempowering and destructive meanings that will lead to more pain and create more conflict later.

Why The Zen Master Smiles Through The Storm

You need not fear the storm. It is what brings the rainbow.

For so long, you have been confused, thinking conflict is to be feared, a sign that something has gone wrong. The Master smiles knowing that here lies the remedy to the illness.

Conflict is a cleansing, allowing the misunderstandings and hurt to come to light. So now you can smile too, knowing that conflict offers an opportunity for healing to unfold. Don’t worry that you may not do all these steps right. You will have many chances to practice. Like any practice, you will see the transformation little by little until one day you will smile.

What is a conflict you have been avoiding? Will your life get any better by letting it fester? How good will it feel to clean out the wound? Your ascension to mastery starts with one conversation.

Try these words: “Do you have some time to talk?”

Featured photo credit: zenonline via flickr.com

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Published on May 18, 2021

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

More Tips Improving Listening Skills

Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

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