I’ve tried everything from being completely non-confrontational to taking boxing lessons to ‘pump-up’ my assertiveness after being bullied at work. Neither worked, though. In boxing I broke my finger, which now has a permanent bend, and my ‘opponent’ still got the right-hook into my emotions, leaving me nauseated, embarrassed and tearful. I often felt deflated after difficult conversations, wishing I could crawl into a hole and never talk to anyone again.
“If you feel you’re about to get into a confrontation with someone, or just another hurtful conversation, stop for a moment (breathe). Now look at your conduct […] drop any behavior that signals hostility or threat. Stop pointing fingers or clenching fists. Relax your gaze, sit or stand straight […] look at your speech […] drop any verbal expressions that incite you or the person you’re talking to. Consciously lowering your voice and avoiding inflammatory speech are things you can choose to do once you bring a sense of mindfulness to your actions.”
When I read this section of the book Emotional Rescue I felt that Ponlop Rinpoche had specifically written that for me! So often I’ve tried and failed at difficult conversations, leaving them full of regret, or worse, with more anger and hurt on both sides. While studying the book, I have been working on catching my emotions –– to see the Mindful Gap, the gap between me and my emotions –– and then look at the emotions as they’re happening. But this is difficult to do in the heat of an argument! This guide for looking at my conduct is so helpful and easy to do.
Awareness in a Difficult Conversation: A Practice
Practicing awareness helps me to be more aware of how emotions come up in the body. Now when I know I’m in a confrontation, I:
- Take a breath.
- Stop talking. The quiet helps to prevent the argument from escalating.
- Do a quick body scan, starting at the head and working my way down: relaxing my eyes and eyebrows, my jaw, dropping my shoulders, and so on.
- Check my voice’s origin point and visualize it moving from high in my throat, where I usually feel it in an argument, to lower in my abdomen.
- Choose my words carefully, first acknowledging what the other person is saying, and then listening to their clarification or agreement. From there I try to not use ‘you’ phrases, but ‘I’ phrases. Or, sometimes I just agree with the person and drop it, because during the few seconds that I took a breath, relaxed my body, and lowered my voice’s origination point, I realize that either they’re right, or that it doesn’t matter if I’m right.
If you’re finding it difficult to catch yourself before the confrontation gets too heated, or you realize after the fact that you didn’t catch yourself, give yourself credit that you recognized it at all! The good news is you can build up your awareness practice through meditation so that you can become more aware in the heat of your next confrontation. Keep trying, that’s why it’s called “practice”!