We all experience conflict in our lives that’s often difficult to navigate. When we witness others in conflict and see them reeling from an argument with a colleague, a family member, or a friend, we often have some perspective on the situation and wish they could see things as we see it – not from the center of the fire. From the outside, we can see that perhaps the situation isn’t as difficult as it seems, or, better yet, there’s a positive lesson to be learned.
But there is nothing quite as frustrating as being the person in a challenging interpersonal situation. You really want to be mature and take the positive perspective, but in the moment it is almost as if the emotions of “upset” and “anger” get together and somehow perpetuate themselves in your mind, blocking out all reason.
The reality is that all of us will get into tough situations every now and again. And we will learn a great deal from those events, so we shouldn’t run from them. But the question then becomes – how do we get to the positive perspective faster, so we spend less time feeling sorry for ourselves or making the situation worse with the things we inevitably say and do while upset.
In between working at McKinsey, studying at Harvard Business School for my MBA, and advising a startup (things are definitely busy for me!), I often find myself looking for ways to stay balanced and positive. I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating this recently and have been working on creating a plan for such situations. Here is my personal 3-step process:
1. Sleep & meditation
Being tired can make your mind play tricks on you. You feel like your world is in shambles, that everybody hates you, the list goes on! Yes, things like not using your computer before bed can help you fall asleep faster, but one thing that works for me is a guided meditation. A guided meditation is basically a soothing voice that walks you through breathing and thought exercises that allow you to literally exhale the day’s worries and relax your mind and body to sleep.
2. Empathy visualizations
A huge part of positivity is being able to empathize with another person. As we know, this is easier said than done. But one thing that helps me is to meditate for about 5-10 minutes and then listen to a guided visualization about empathy. An exercise like this can effectively force your brain to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and explore the ways they see you, the situation, and themselves. Every time I’m about to do one of these visualizations, I am skeptical. I think that I will probably come out from the experience holding the same grudge. But it never happens. I am shocked at how much compassion and empathy I feel for my “antagonist”.
3. Writing down what I’m grateful for
Like a good number of people, I make a practice of counting my blessings every so often in a gratitude journal. Usually it’s the obviously good stuff – the fiancé, the family, the opportunities, good health. However, when I have a tricky interpersonal situation, I force myself (and I say force because it doesn’t come easy) to write how I am grateful for that person.
For example, I once had a boss that was pleasant to me while we worked together and then gave me a horrible career-denting review at the end. I felt like I had been completely betrayed. When I started writing, I found that I was grateful for him for teaching me to be more proactive about asking for feedback and to be more perceptive about how others are actually viewing my work and personality. This step single-handedly helped me see the situation in a positive light and allowed me to grow exponentially.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to find a strategy that works best. None of us can live conflict-free lives, but what we can do, however, is develop strategies for managing those conflicts and staying as positive as possible throughout the process.