How do you handle conflict? For most of us the answer is, ‘not very well’. Conflict can raise your blood pressure, constrict your veins and arteries, and make your heart beat harder and faster.
Did you know that communication is NEARLY ALWAYS at the heart of conflict. As people, we miscommunicate on a regular basis. Part of what makes good communication so difficult is that it involves at least two people. Once is communicating and one is interpreting that communication. Let’s take a look at both important parts.
Communicate a consistent message
I was at a retreat this weekend where we played a game about consistent messaging. Think about a time when someone was talking with you and their message was not consistent. Their words said something that did not match their tone or their face or their body language. Imagine someone saying, ‘I love you’ with a grimace on their face and a mocking tone. Or picture someone saying, ‘So nice to meet you’ while glancing around the room looking for someone else. Has anyone ever tried to express anger with you then started laughing? It is hard to express anger while laughing. Someone was just telling me a story about a toddler rearranging a bunch of decorations and falling into a box headfirst with her feet sticking out of the top. The decoration was too heavy and pulled her over. This parent had to stifle giggles and get a picture before retrieving and correcting the toddler.
So, when you are communicating, carefully think about saying the same message with your words, your tone, your eye contact, your facial expression, and your body language. That will help avoid misinterpretation.
Check for understanding
When you are the one communicating, make sure the receiver actually understands what you are saying. It is ok to ask them to repeat it back. Or to ask what questions they have. If we assume the other person understood exactly what we were thinking and trying to communicate, we can often be disappointed. Think about the last time you thought someone understood and they did something completely different than what you asked.
If you are the listener, this is a critical step to assure you are understanding the message.
When you are the listener, one of the best techniques you can use is ‘reflective statements’. State back to the person communicating with you what you hear them saying. Put it in your own words. Here are some examples:
- You are saying you are upset about _________ because _________.
- You are asking me to _________________ and have it done by _________.
- ___________ frustrates you when he/she ______________.
- You want to ________________ before you agree to a hip surgery.
- You heard that I ______________, and it has upset you.
- Your son forgot to _______________, and not you don’t know what to do.
When you respond with a reflecting statement, you are making sure you understood the person’s message. It is a chance for them to clarify if you misunderstood. It is also a chance for them to feel heard and understood if you are correct.
Making sure you understand before taking any action, even before getting angry, and help avoid a lot of conflict.
If someone is upset or angry and respond also upset and angry, the situation escalates quickly. I have seen this happen where the two people don’t even realize they are saying the same thing. Neither is listening, they are just yelling. Now that will really get your blood pressure up!
I have found that FREQUENTLY, what I think I heard and what the person really intended were different. Especially when the topic is emotionally charged. It is our natural reaction to get defensive when someone comes at us angry. It is very hard to listen well in that state. So, a really deep breath and a calm reflecting statement can often help the situation calm back down. Sometimes when we are angry or frustrated we just want to vent. Once the venting is done, and the recipient reflects understanding, the situation doesn’t seem so bad.
Communicate with your Healthcare Team
These same techniques are very helpful when you communicate with your doctor. Sometimes the news we receive from our doctor can be upsetting. The words used in medicine are big and scary all by themselves. It can be hard to understand all of the technical information.
I highly encourage you to state back to your doctor what you just heard. Say it in your own words. This will help the doctor know where to clarify. I have had many patients get upset by a medical term that was actually no big deal. It just sounded scary. My grandfather, after 40+ years of smoking, a heart attack, a stroke, and stomach ulcers quit smoking cold turkey. We had been trying to get him to quit for years. None of those scary medical issues made him quit. But, when he was diagnosed with hiatal hernia he quit on the spot. [Hiatal hernia is when the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach can’t close all the way. This allows stomach acid to come back up giving you heartburn. For him, this was the mildest of his issues.] I ask him why. His answer, ‘That’s a really scary word.’ I was in pharmacy school at the time. I had all sorts of scary words I could have given him. Who knew that was all it would take to get him to quit.
So, I encourage use to be clear and consistent with your communication. And, ask clarifying questions and use reflective statements when you are receiving communication. Especially if it seems upsetting, make sure you really understand the message before you make any decisions. This could help you avoid a lot of conflict.
Your heart will thank you for managing conflict better and keeping your blood pressure down.
For more information about communication techniques for your health, please contact us at Meds MASH at 410-472-5078 or www.medsmash.com/contact.
When we react without first understanding, we often get ourselves into trouble. Throughout the Bible we see examples of people making bad assumptions followed by bad actions.
The people of Israel, after God had gotten them out of slavery and out of Egypt and led them through the desert supplying food and water and protection, still made bad assumptions. While Moses was on the mountain with God himself, they assumed he wasn’t coming back, so they made a golden calf to be their god.
Exodus 32:1 NIV
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods[a] who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
When Jesus was talking with his disciples about what was coming next for him, including his death, Peter jumped right in and disagreed.
Matthew 16:21-23 NIV
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.
Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”
Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
In the bible we are also told to expect miscommunication in the future. There will be false prophets and all sorts of misinformation.
Matthew 7:15 ESV
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.
1 John 4:1 ESV
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
We are called to be discerning. Ask questions. Get the full story. Make sure you understand and that what you hear matches the messages of the Bible.
I feel better when I read this passage. There will be no doubt when Jesus returns. Other people can claim what they want. I won’t believe it until it is this obvious:
Matthew 24:29-31 ESV
The Coming of the Son of Man
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
That doesn’t sound too subtle. So, until it is extremely obvious and visible to all of creation, let’s not fall for false messages.