Most of the conflict I deal with in my work is interpersonal, maybe even intergroup, but sometimes it’s the conversations with ourselves that have the biggest impact on our interactions in the workplace or at home. We have about 70,000 thoughts per day, and around 85% of those thoughts are negative. That much negativity is bound to have an effect on your mood, productivity, and perceived self-worth.
Negative self-talk is more than just your “inner critic”. It can be any thought you have in which you denigrate yourself, put yourself down, or cause a lapse in self-confidence. Over time, this kind of self-talk can cause you to form a more negative view of yourself or your circumstances. By challenging the negative self-talk habit, you may be able to lessen the amount of interpersonal as well as intrapersonal conflict you experience.
To overcome negative self-talk, first you need to become aware of it and make efforts to change your thinking. It may not feel like it, but your thought patterns can be changed with practice.
As a mediator, I know that feelings are a part of most conflicts. If not handled appropriately, they’re likely to surface again later on, maybe even leading to a conflict escalating. It’s not about pretending that something didn’t upset or impact you or your feelings, it’s about choosing how you manage those feelings. And self-talk can play a huge role in this process.
Pay attention to how you talk to yourself. When you notice that you’re engaging in negative self-talk, pause and take a deep breath. Then try to reframe the thought or situation in a positive way. For example, say you’re stuck in traffic and you’re kicking yourself for taking that particular route instead of an alternate. You’re probably working yourself into a bad mood, and you’re probably adding stress to your day. Instead of stewing in the negative and beating yourself up, breathe and reframe the thoughts as something positive, such as having an opportunity to listen to more music or a podcast, or more alone time before you hit the office.
If turning the negative situation or thought into a positive one doesn’t seem genuine, then don’t try to do a 180-degree turn. Instead, try shifting to “possible thinking”. With this, you reframe the thought from a negative to a factual. It’s a more neutral version of the reframing process and can help you begin the process of overcoming the negativity without plunging straight into positive thoughts that you don’t yet believe in. Psychologist Tamar E. Chansky, PhD, gave an example of what possible thinking looks like in a 2017 HuffPost article: Instead of telling yourself that you’re overweight or “fat”, reframe the negativity as “I’d like to lose 10 pounds. I know how to do it.” Chansky says, “The facts give you a lot more choices and directions you can go in.”
Cultivate an awareness of your thoughts and when you notice the negativity, change it.
Negative self-talk is insidious because it can sneak up on us, but it can also cause us to lash out at others or feel more stress. Similar to anger or pain, our negative thoughts can result in increased conflict. It doesn’t matter if this conflict is internal or external; placing yourself in a heightened state of conflict isn’t going to do you or anyone else any good.
Jennice Vilhauer in Psychology Today provides a great example of what this negativity can do to your self-esteem:
“Imagine a small child learning to walk: If you scream at him and call him a little dummy every time he falls down, you can imagine that would have a negative impact. It would certainly have a very different effect than if you smiled and encouraged the child each time he took a step toward you. When your inner critic consistently labels you in a negative way, it has a demoralizing effect and shapes your larger self-concept about who you are and what you can do.”
Addressing your negative inner voice and overcoming those thought patterns can help you to avoid not only further inner conflict in which you are angry, disappointed, or anxious with yourself, but also external conflict in which you may become defensive, antagonistic, or paralyzed with indecision.
Have you ever completed a task and then criticized your performance? Or maybe you were in a team meeting and you phrased something imperfectly or your blurted out a half-formed thought, and afterward you started kicking yourself for the slip?
It’s happened to all of us at some point. Recognize that you aren’t perfect—none of us are—and that mistakes happen. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, because they are inevitable. Then give yourself permission to not chastise yourself for those mistakes. If you absolutely feel that you must rant or criticize yourself, try placing a time limit on the negativity. After five minutes, allow yourself to set it aside and move forward to find a solution.
Your negative inner voice can greatly influence how well you perform your job and how confident you feel. Improve your chances of being confident and avoiding external or internal conflict by transforming your negative inner critic into a positive (or neutral) inner voice.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. An expert in dispute resolution and mediation, Ms. Kandell is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She has been a leader in the Montgomery County Bar Association and the Maryland Council for Dispute Resolution. She provides mediation services, group facilitation, neutral evaluation and training to diverse, national clients. Get in touch with her via email, LinkedIn, Twitter, or give her a call at 301-588-5390.