Three Tips for Communicating Mindfully With Our Difficult People
Recently I spoke at a conference with the theme of "Together we can …". This is the perfect title for a conference in our great community of Missoula. But, I like what it doesn’t say even more. It doesn’t say, “us versus them”. Now, of course, a conference wouldn't be titled "us versus them" as that wouldn’t be politically correct, but even when it’s not explicitly said, “us versus them” is the implication that we receive all too often in our society through our news reporting, social media, and even the workplace. There’s always an “us”, and “them” is always those “other” people. The people we don’t agree with, the difficult people. We separate ourselves on a variety of views, but, what if we could disagree with someone while still holding them as a fellow human being who is just trying to do their best – just like us? What if we could have calm, friendly conversations with people at work or with neighbors with whom we have fundamental differences? What if we could still work together with them toward a common goal at work or in our neighborhood? Imagine that world.
Imagine the stress right now of having to walk into a meeting and sit down across from someone with whom you always seem to butt heads. How is that conversation going to go when you both come to the table ready for a fight or prepared for there to be no middle ground?
At some time, we all have to work with people whom we’ve struggled with in the past. Here are some tips from the contemplative practice of Mindfulness to help each of us sense our community with others, so there’s less of a sense of “them” and more of a sense of “us”.
- Connect with your body. I invite you to notice when you get tight – you know the feeling – your jaw clamps shut, your forehead scrunches down, or some other part of you tightens up. The feeling hits all of us differently, so identify where the feeling of anger and frustration settles in your body. You may already know, but it’s very possible you’ve never consciously taken note. But now that you have, this is your warning sign. Before you even feel angry, notice “Yikes, forehead scrunching! Warning!” By simply beginning to tie into our body and really notice what’s going on, we take the first step to move away from our thinking mind - the part that is starting to tell a story about why you don’t like this person or why this situation isn’t fair. We return to the present moment and we have a better chance of letting our rational mind return.
- Breathe. You’ve connected with your body, now connect with the other piece of you that is always there waiting for attention and waiting to bring you back to the present moment, your breath. Before responding in any way, simply take a mere moment to follow your inhale and your exhale. This practice creates the hesitation you always need to properly respond to anything. Note, for some people focusing on the breath can make them anxious. If you are one of these people, instead try bringing your attention to the firmness of your feet on the ground.
- Just Like Me. This is one of my favorite practices. It’s meant for each time you feel yourself start to get frustrated. You feel your breath quicken and your body start to tighten as the car in front of you moves at a snail’s pace or the person across the table says something that seems like it is just outright contradicting what you just said. Instead think,
- Just like me, this person wants to be happy. It’s true; nobody is trying to go through life miserable. We may not agree with how they are trying to be happy, but still …
- Just like me, this person is trying to get somewhere. Apparently, they gave themselves more time to get there, but still …
- Just like me, this person sitting across from me is searching for the best solution. We may not agree on what the best solution is, but still …
“Just like me” really helps me move from “them” to “us” in my mind and my response. I hope these practices also help you as you work with the difficult people in your life. Maybe they even help you to see some humor in your own thoughts!