As you might know, in September David and I moved to the Netherlands to be closer to my parents. To travel lightly, we sold and gave away most of our furniture. Now that our container has arrived with all our boxes, it’s time to replace some of that furniture.
I find a nice wardrobe on Marktplaats and rent a car to pick it up. The car has a manual transmission. The last time I drove a stick shift, I struggled so miserably to drive up a steep slope, that I burned the rubber of the tires. We could smell it weeks later.
Fortunately, there are plenty of YouTube videos that show you how to drive a manual, which I watch zealously. And successfully. I drive away without fail, succeed at shifting to second gear, and stop before the traffic light at the busiest intersection in Bilthoven.
I am first in line and see a slew of cars behind me, eager to finish their Saturday shopping. When the traffic light turns green, I implement what I learned from the videos.
I inch four feet forward, then the engine turns off. I restart the car. Three feet forward, engine off. A third time. After 15 failed attempts to clear the now utterly chaotic intersection, I am about to give up.
That’s when someone knocks at my window. I expect an infuriated car driver yelling at me about how stupid I am. Instead, I see a friendly face: “Can I help you?”.
He’s a professional car instructor. He gets in the car and sees that I am trying to start up in the wrong gear. With some embarrassment, I thank him from the bottom of my heart and succeed in finishing my trip.
This would probably never happen to you. Repeating the same mistake 15 times without getting professional feedback. It seems kind of dumb. And it causes stress and chaos.
But when it comes to conflicts we often do just that. We watch some John Gottman videos. Work through Byron Katie’s Judge-Your-Neighbor worksheet. But as soon as our colleague, partner, or neighbor opens their mouth, we are triggered and fall into the trap of the harsh start-up.
That is one of the biggest communication killers that cause relationships to fall apart. And even though it seems an easy issue to solve, it takes skillful awareness to put the theory into practice.
To resolve that problem, I offer facilitated dialogues. In these dialogues, you learn three simple steps to transform conflict into collaboration. You can practice them till you are a master, and move your relationship forward.
We can work on Zoom or meet in person. Contact me if you want to explore how these dialogues can help you.
And I won’t yell at you, not even if you make the same mistake 15 times. I will just gently show you that you’re trying to start the conversation in the wrong gear.
My neighbor Jing walks around the block every night around 7:00 pm. She loves talking with the neighbors and uses a translation app to improve her rudimentary English. It’s a slow process, but I enjoy chatting with her and contributing to her fluency.
Today, I only have time for some simple greetings. It turns out her English is worse than I thought. She looks at me in bewilderment when I tell her, “Nice to see you.” She doesn’t answer my question, “How are you?” And when I say, “See you later,” she waves at me in confusion.
As I’m biking off, I realize that I wasn’t saying any of these things. Instead, I said, “Goed om je te zien.”, “Hoe gaat die met jou?”, and “Tot ziens!”
Without realizing it, I was speaking Dutch. Given that I had just come back from two weeks of taking care of my parents 24/7, with my sleep deficit and jetlag, it’s not surprising that my brain is foggy and doesn’t realize it’s back in the States.
Had I paused and checked if she understood me, I would have known that what I wanted to say was not what she was hearing.
Fortunately, our connection is positive enough that my blunder doesn’t have much of a negative impact.
But when relationships are under stress, misunderstandings aren’t brushed off lightly. Every interaction gets filtered through the lens of emotional baggage and enemy images, distorting confusion into malicious intent.
You don’t hear what the other person is saying as a tragic expression of unmet needs. You hear it as blame, defensiveness, criticism, contempt. Left to your own devices, you spiral down into mistrust.
Mediators have known this for a long time and have designed processes to help people resolve their conflicts in constructive ways. A mediator’s calming presence and firm leadership reduce the risk that conflicts turn into a screaming match.
As a credentialed mediator with the Texas Mediator Credentialing Association, I know the process and have improved it with the insights of Nonviolent Communication and Thich Nhat Hanh.
The result is a facilitated dialogue that nurtures mutual respect, dignity, and emotional safety and supports participants to find solutions that meet as many needs as possible.
As Catherine said:
“Working with you was pivotal for me. It helped me get over the enormous hurdle of really feeling heard and seen by my ex-husband, and helped me to finally feel forgiveness in my heart. I’m happy to report that my relationship with him is in a really good space, and also that our daughter is doing very well.
I will forever treasure you and the gift you gave me, of a framework for knowing and naming needs and feelings, and for making all the difference in what many people thought was an impossible situation for me. For that, I am profoundly grateful.”
Contact me if you want to know how my services can help you transform your conflict into collaboration.
Some things you just can’t do on Zoom. Like holding your friends’ hands while saying grace for food. Tucking your baby in at night and singing him a lullaby. Taking out the trash for your elderly neighbor.
So when my dad gets hospitalized in June, I fly out to support him and my mom. Calling him on the phone won’t get his hair brushed. Seeing my mom on Zoom won’t get her to the hospital. Empathy won’t help with cooking dinner. I need to be there in person.
Zoom is great, but not for everything.
The same is true for email. Wonderful if you want to appreciate what your colleague did. Use it to inform others of your upcoming travel plans. Very practical for sending your team the agenda of the meeting.
But don’t use it to express frustration or resolve conflict. Then the ‘enter’ button is your enemy. With just one click on a button, you risk ruining a relationship that probably already is challenging.
“Message sent, is not always message received” is true for any communication. But even more so with email. You cannot check the facial reactions as you talk, you don’t see the shift in body posture as you deliver your message, and you can’t notice the change in breathing as you share your frustration.
So it is very hard to know that your message is received the way you intended, not even if you ask them to email back a summary of your key points. How do you know they didn’t just copy and paste your text, let alone have true empathy for the underlying issue?
But resolving conflict by phone isn’t necessarily a good alternative either. Even though it has the immediacy of the interaction and the nonverbal cues of your voice, you don’t know if their silence means that they are reflecting on what you said or have put the phone down to do something else.
The best way to resolve conflict is to meet in person. Especially if you use Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Beginning Anew.” It is a sequence of sharing appreciation, regret, and then requests. The focus is on improving the relationship by nurturing honesty and empathy so that your requests are true requests, not camouflaged demands.
With practice, this process becomes second nature. But you do need to know that you are practicing the right way. That’s where coaching with a mindfulness coach comes in.
Since 2011, I have practiced with Thich Nhat Hanh’s community and taught many of my clients how to use this process. If you want to see if working with me would help you too, you can schedule a free discovery session with me.
It could help you wipe off the yuck of even the most contaminated relationships!
Use this link to schedule your free session.