It is hard not to ruminate about the tense situations we have found ourselves in the last 90 days. Tempers have flared, emotions risen, and our country has cried out in pain first from a pandemic which has left many isolated, alone, jobless, ill and living inside a trauma bubble.
Second from the age of injustices.
As a clinician and interventionist my team and I are constantly faced with situations in which we must first deescalate tensions and second build on resiliency.
I have found the best thing one can do is operate from a position of leverage peppered with strength love and compassion. Leverage is having something the other person wants. Or better yet needs. Or best of all things that they can’t live without.
When it comes to conflict resolutions joining up with the person and listening empathetically not necessarily arguing with their intense anger does more good than asking, Why are you angry?
Here are some tips to help you join up with another. If you are a clinician or an interventionist, you will know these as they are based on Motivational Interviewing (MI) and Solution Focused Therapy (SFT) along with what we have learned in the area of hostage negation.
Here are some tips.
- Respect Personal space Maintain an open body stance – When approaching someone do so with an open body stance and bring your listening skills. If you scowl, roll your eyes cross your arms and have a meaner frightened look you will not engage.
- Listen with an open heart and address the other persons concerns. This is called reflective listening. You can say I know that there may be many different things you want to do today and being with us may not be one of them, yet I am hear today to listen to your concerns as well as share mine. This is a way to neutralize their feelings by empathizing with them , reflecting back their concerns and then moving on. Your wiliness to listen makes it hard for others t
- Keep your tone and body language neutral Make a gentle approach do not confront. When we do interventions w invite people to come and meet. We indicate that everyone has a problem and ware after a solution. Not everyone responds s to a gentle approach and yet we know that hitting pause and allowing someone to vent without pushback can often allow for the conversation to begin.
- Always use “I “ Statements. When one starts a conversation indicating that I am sure you did not mean this I felt disrespected, put down and disregarded when you did not listen to what I had to say. Or I felt , frighten, baffled and confused last night when you did xyzzy is a non judgemental way to start a conversation/
- Think of the conversation as a growth opportunity. Will escalating the conversation actually yield the results you want. Ask yourself what part I play in this. Is this fight really worth it/ Will this fight lead to what I want? Think about marital strife and divorce if a couple is able o for example consciously uncouple or work out arrangements without escalating into a legal battle how much better is that for both. In like manner if we are faced with protest or violence. Arguing only escalates tension .
- Avoid over-reacting
- Focus on the thoughts behind the feelings. Some people just do not know how to identify feeling and have trouble identifying what’s happening to them.
- You can ask. Help me identify what you want? Has anything besides drugs helped you in the past? Was there ever a time you got along with x? Tell me if I am understanding you correctly
- Ignore Challenging or Baiting Questions
- When a person is disruptive, defensive, or argumentative, it’s important for you to remain calm and say, I welcome hearing what you have to say. I can’t hear you as you are screaming. So that I can fully understand you its important for you to be calm so we can talk. How can we make this happen?
- Choose boundaries wisely – Never threaten or set a boundary that you cannot enforce. If you can offer options it shows flexibility. I understand it’s confusing, yet state and federal law say that one cannot leave their young child unattended while one is under the influence. Or I cannot serve you alcohol because state and federal law say you must be over 21. Or I understand that you have great passion for injustice I cannot though pay for your lawyer as you were caught looting a store.
- Give time for decision making. Don’t rush into a hasty decision. Take time. As Plato says thoughtful consideration and wise deliberation are key. So many families I work with give away their power to their adult children. They fear if they set limits, they will lose them and yet when one looks objectively at the relationship, no one has anybody, and they in reality do not have relationships. Claiming one’s power as a parent recognizes that you know more the you know more than your acting out adult and gives your young adult the gift of succeeding on their own.
- Allow Silence – Let a person reflect on what you are saying and give them time to figure out their next steps without nagging, pleading, scolding or texting.
- Allow time for a decision. When a person is upset, under the influence or agitated they tend to act impulsively. If you are setting a boundary, give them space.
- Use Conflict As a Stimulus for Growth. Conflict is not innately bad or good . See it as an opportunity to explore your blind spots, what your part in the equation.
- Discover Common ground and apologize when necessary using “I “terms.
- Lastly, focus on the thoughts behind the feelings and discover your sense of humor. Oftentimes aggressiveness, bravado and bellowing hides shame, angst and despair so focus on the what’s going behind.