(This is an excerpt from the book “Life is tough…yet it doesn’t have to be that way; ISBN 978-3-7103-1105-5)
Many of us, when faced with a situation that we find stressful or unpleasant, react by lashing out. We attack the person that we consider to be responsible for our unease, for our rage, and tell them what incompetent headless toads drifting in a smelly, dark green pond they are. In so doing, we try to make ourselves feel better and, at the same time, we want to show our counterpart what kind of bad behaviour they are displaying. We expect them to repent and finally see the light, and tell us that they have erred, throw themselves at our feet, and we also expect that from now on they will be staying on the path of wisdom that we so forcefully put across to them.
Of course, in reality, when we respond with verbal force to a situation, events are only likely to escalate, till at one time one of the parties starts to back off, or removes herself physically, or till both parties attack each other physically.
What we have then are two unhappy, angry people, who hold a grudge towards each other. In extreme cases, when two or more nations, tribes, gangs or in general, groups of people face each other in such a way, the end result is war, displacement, death and enormous suffering on all sides.
If this is some situation where the two parties need to see each other often, such as in a work-related condition, then this tension can become almost unbearable and result in stress, heaviness, striving to put the other person under a bad light and oneself under a good one and generally, lack of harmony.
This can easily transmit to a whole department – or a whole company – as we literally pass on our body language to others. In fact, depending on which study you decide to believe, anywhere between 60 and 85% of our communications are non-verbal, hence, in the long run, my anger becomes your anger by proxy. If looked at from the other side, this is why we feel easy around certain people – their ease becomes our ease – and, as said, uneasy around others.
Let’s stay with the situation in which we feel uneasy around certain people. This state of affairs often arises because they try to present – verbally – a certain image of themselves, yet their body language is telling a different story, and body language is the one we mostly pick up and react to.
But let’s go back to the situation at work, between the two people in question. What can we do now, as individuals not directly concerned with the skirmish-at-work, to help the parties involved, to help them bring ease and lightness to their working –and personal – relationship?
One way of solving the conflict once and for all is by developing a capacity to identify people’s innermost needs, as well as their feelings.
This, almost needless to say, involves several steps, which I like to sum up in this way:
Step 1) Train yourself to, at all times, identify how you feel. In your private time as well as at work. When you do a certain thing, how do you feel? Happy? Sad? Angry? Relaxed? Moved? Etc…
Step 2) Train yourself to identify your own needs. Needs in this specific context refer to basic human needs such as, for example, food, to be heard, to be seen, sharing, meaning, growth, contribution, inclusion, and the list goes on.
I wish to open a long parenthesis now. Step one is a major indicator, a major gauge of the condition of our life. Imagine at one end of the gauge the inscription “Not fulfilled. Following what others want me to. Not paying attention to what I need. Emotional empty tank”. At the other end of the gauge “Fulfilled. I meet my needs most, if not all of the time. Emotional full tank”.
Feelings such as anger, sadness, heaviness, weakness indicate an emotional empty tank. We don’t really trust in our inner voice; we actually override it with our thoughts and rationalizations. Often these rationalizations will contain the “should” word.
On the other hand, feelings such as joy, playfulness, lightness point towards emotional full tank. We listen to our inner voice, and we live in harmony with what it tells us, even when what it tells us is not always convenient. It might tell us, for example, that it is time to quit a certain job and go for a long trip throughout South America. We are perhaps, in that very moment of realization, lingering on the couch watching a movie, congratulating ourselves for the comfortable life we have created; yet, living a meaningful life entails listening to that inner voice and rocking our own boat.
Generally, a meaningful life also means that we live a life in which we treat others with the same compassionate lovingness that we give to ourselves.
Based on all of this, it becomes pretty obvious why our feelings are an absolutely precious indicator as to what is happening inside, and a pointer to whether we are living a satisfying, full life worth living or not.
Once you have a basic ability to address your own feelings and needs, it is time to go to the next level; the level of the strategies and their utmost intimate connection with our needs.
Briefly, strategies are all the things we do in life. No exception. When, for example, we go to the cinema, we are fulfilling some needs, which could be for relaxation, playfulness, or excitement. We get up in the morning to go to work. That is a strategy to fulfil certain needs, perhaps financial safety, excitement, meaning. We go on a break to a peaceful spot. It is a strategy to fulfil certain needs, maybe harmony, ease, space. We pick up the phone to call someone. It’s a strategy to fulfil certain needs, such as connection, sharing, closeness. Yet, the catch for most of us is that we do things in reverse order; we put the cart before the horse, as it were. We go out in the world and do things, unaware of the needs we are trying to fulfil and often, we get lost in “doership”, and that is when we invoke the help of a counsellor, a spiritual leader or a psychologist, because most of the time we create chaos and pain.
If, on the other hand, we stop and give ourselves the time to see what our needs are, and what feelings they lead to, then we stand a very good chance of identifying and putting into place those strategies that bring us fulfilment.
With this new knowledge, we can go back to the uneasy situation between the two parties at the office and move to the next step.
Step 3) With the awareness of feelings, needs and strategies we can start talking with the two individuals. There will be lots of blame sentences flying back and forth, such as “he did this” and “she said that”, or perhaps “she is this” and “he is that”.
It is important, very important in this moment to see behind the words that are flying across the room, and to try and guess what everybody’s needs are, and to give all a chance to express themselves. This guesswork is necessary to be able to connect to the individuals’ innermost humanity.
Step 4) At this stage, we want to thoroughly and truly connect with the people involved, and in order to do that we start asking about their needs, based on the guesswork we just did. So, for example, we could say: “Are you angry because you need to be heard?”
Chances are the guess was right and the person says yes. We continue with this work till all parties have sufficiently been heard. We will know at what point in time this happens, because the energy of all involved will shift from hostile to relaxed; from two people seeing each other as antagonists, to two people touching each other’s humanity. Tune in to people’s body language to see where they are.
Step 5) Work on the strategies. Help all involved find strategies that work, without any party feeling that they are giving up anything, in any way.
Step 6) Create a win-win situation.We live in a world where all too often mediation has come to mean: “you give up a little, I give up a little and we both walk away dissatisfied, but what can you do…”. A classical expression of the “win-lose” model.
The result of this way of thinking is unhappy parties who haven’t solved anything and who may carry grudges for years. (In extreme situations, these grudges are passed on from generation to generation, down the centuries, creating highly volatile political areas on this planet). On the other hand, a win-win mediation is based on strategies that all parties are really happy with. This is easy to reach once all parties feel heard, and once all were able to connect to each other at this profoundest level of basic human needs.
Human relations can be really easy, if we are willing to make the necessary steps to understand and reach out to ourselves, and then to others. Win-win situations are the only ones that create lasting peace within, and in the world around us, because the win-win model is based on everyone’s needs being met. Conflicts that have often simmered for generations can be erased when all parties are willing to meet at this most genuine and intimate human level.
About Jerry Zondervan
Jerry Zondervan is an Inner Reference counselor/counsellor (a form of person-centered, humanist psychology) and author of many articles, as well as the book “Life is tough…yet it doesn’t have to be that way”. Jerry has a background in the social sciences, psychology and in a former [and present…:-) ] life, a career in hotel management. His work is based on Eastern and Western Philosophies – mostly the Yoga and Buddhist traditions – as well as the research on psychology performed by Jung, Rogers, Maslow, Rosenberg, Burns and many, many more. He counsels (through Skype, phone and e-mail) globally and gives thought-process changing workshops throughout most of the world.