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Defusing a Relationship Bomb

Defusing a Relationship Bomb
Defusing a Relationship Bomb

    Relationship Bombs. We hit them all of the time – or rather they hit us. They are tensions ready to snap, anger ready to boil over or cold, calculated vengeance waiting for opportunity. A relationship bomb is on the brink of exploding in most confrontations because people simply don’t understand each other.

    This is our first mistake. We look at a conflict and all we can see is an incident or a situation that can be solved. We are in an angry altercation with someone and we try to fix it straight away by doing something. Practical measures might have stopped the problem before it happened, but now it is too late. Really, the only way to make peace is to defuse the bomb first, and here is how it is done.

    Try this example. You sit down at your colleague’s work station to quickly check something while the service guy works on your computer. You close a window and temporarily lose a file for your colleague and she is furious. Of course you can offer to search around and retrieve it but she won’t listen. Her blood is boiling, her pulse is rising and it looks like any minute you might see Mt. Vesuvius erupting through her eyes. Practical solutions are not going to help because you simply don’t understand how she feels. It is not about the lost file anymore. There is something going on in her personal world that is making the bomb tick.

    The only solution is to deal with the understanding issue before it gets out of hand. The best way to do this, and walk away with a productive relationship, takes time. If you don’t have the time, then try some other way to make peace but you are going to lose in the long run. Until we try to understand the other person, an issue will never be fully solved, and may well come back to bite us later.

    Here is one way to make sure you understand the other person. I call it Tedious Reflection, simply because it is tedious and it involves reflecting what you hear from the other person. This is not the same as the manipulative reflection that is supposed to build rapport with others. All we are doing here is asking if we understand the other person. If we don’t then we ask again and again and again slowly getting closer and closer to full understanding.

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    So you lose your colleague’s file and you carefully ask her:

    You: “Can I solve this by finding your file for you? Will that make everything OK ?”

    Sue: “Of course it won’t, you lazy………”

    You: “So is the problem that I am a lazy….”

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    Sue: “No, that just makes you lose files. The problem is that this is the fourth time that…”

    You: “So is the problem that people keep abusing your generosity?”

    Sue: “No I haven’t been generous, it is just that they assume that I will be.”

    You: “So people have just been walking in here and using your desktop like I did.”

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    Sue: “Yes, and they wouldn’t have done that if I was a jerk like Steven”

    and so it goes on, and after a tedious process of dragging the understanding out of your colleague, her tempo gradually reduces, her colour changes back to normal and she visibly relaxes a little. At the end, you understand that the actual incident was just the flash-point. Really she cared very little about the file and so finding it again was not a big issue. It all came down to a bunch of other things happening in her world that now you have a better understanding of.

    This sort of confrontation is not for the weak-hearted because you may cop a lot of anger along the way. In effect, what you are asking is “What is making you angry?”. The problem with this is that only part of any situation is actually directly related to you. Usually there will be contributing factors from all over the place that you will be hit with, in the flurry of communication.

    You will never reach 100% understanding with another human unless you are physically joined by the brain. The best that you can hope for is maybe 90%. But this is a lot better than most people ever experience in their haste. You will know you are there, when you carefully ask your colleague. “Have I got this right? Do I understand correctly? You feel…..” and then they agree. That is close enough for what we want. If the other person is ready to agree that you have heard and understood them, then solving the practical things will be easy.

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    The whole process may have been tedious and time consuming. You may have felt awkward and embarrassed. No matter what, you will walk away with a defused Relationship Bomb, a way towards a workable solution to the underlying problem, and probably a strengthened and trusting relationship. If nothing else, this exercise will show that you have integrity in your relationships and that you are trying to set up a way that you can both walk away with dignity.

    Try it today.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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