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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 August 6, 2020

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

    We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

    “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

    Are we speaking the same language?

    My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

    When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

    Am I being lazy?

    When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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    Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

    Early in the relationship:

    “Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

    When the relationship is established:

    “Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

    It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

    Have I actually got anything to say?

    When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

    A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

    When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

    Am I painting an accurate picture?

    One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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    How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

    Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

    What words am I using?

    It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

    Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

    Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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    Is the map really the territory?

    Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

    A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

    I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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