In the workplace and family arena much of the conflict mediators deal with is interpersonal, maybe even intergroup; but, sometimes it’s the conversations with ourselves that have the biggest impact on our interactions at home or in the workplace. Remaining in the moment is crucial to productivity as ruminating steals away both time and energy. What we decide to tell ourselves about a situation or a challenge can have an immense effect on how we respond, and on how the situation ends up ultimately affecting us. When it comes to conflict, self-talk can be the difference between explosion, negotiation or resolution. Read on for a few helpful strategies for dealing with negativity and using self-talk to your advantage.
When it comes to our thoughts, we will only reap what we cultivate. It takes time and energy to keep talking yourself through those negative thoughts – even if it feels a lot easier in the moment. The first step is to notice that you are, in fact, having a conversation with yourself, and that you do have a few choices. 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 blow up. 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.
Start by explicitly “seeing” what’s going on. “X, Y, or Z happened, and I feel X, Y, or Z.” It sounds simple, but you might be surprised to feel that you have instantly given yourself back some control over your reactions. Then decide the best way to go forward, with intention. One strategy is to empower yourself and cultivate positive energy by channeling your focus onto what you want or what needs to get done. Another strategy is to get yourself past the intensity of your feelings. Try thinking about your breathing, or writing down a list of the things you do want to focus on. And get your inner voices on board with the broader goal: this isn’t going to eat my day, this feels like a setback, but what I really want is to beat it and to invest in my best self, not obsess about somebody else.
In communication or conflict, self-talk can completely change the tenor of the exchange. You can talk yourself into feeling that someone has been a terrible person, or you can remind yourself that they are human, too, and that there might be a part of the situation you aren’t seeing yet. Self-talk can encourage you to get increasingly reactive and explosive, or it can help you maintain a controlled strategy of inquiry and problem solving.
There’s a lot in life we can’t control, but we do make hundreds of choices every day. And in a conversation with yourself, you’re in charge, even if the original stimulus is beyond your reach. Your best bet for influencing those unpredictable external variables is to get your inner voices on your team.
Ellen F. Kandell is a certified professional mediator and attorney with over 30 years of public and private sector experience. She is one of eight Maryland mediators featured on a statewide demonstration video of good mediation practice. Ellen is certified by the International Mediation Institute. She provides mediation, group facilitation and training to diverse clients in Washington, DC and the US. Get in touch with her via email, and follow her on LinkedIn, and Twitter.