Being a reflective individual means regularly engaging in this kind of inquiry. It can also help you draw out invaluable insights for the future.
We’ve all had the experience of diving into a conversation, riding high on emotions and frustration. The conversation becomes a conflict, and then the conflict escalates and becomes painful. Hours later the issues may or may not have been resolved, but along with the underlying issue there is now another one: hurt feelings piled on top of the original problem. You have experienced pain inflicting comments, verbal attacks from both sides, new rifts of mistrust and resentment opened between you and your colleagues, friends or family members. After it’s all said and done, we might still feel justified in our original feelings, but all too frequently we regret our behaviors and find ourselves confronting a new emotional struggle.
Such scenarios don’t just occur in our personal relationships, they can happen in venues ranging from workplaces to communities to entire societies. They can become normalized and habitual. Self-reflection, prior to entering a dialogue or conflict as well as throughout and after, can help us avoid these destructive scenarios, and create new communication patterns.
It can be hard to consider turning inward when it feels like there is a threat or problem coming at you from an external source. However, if you can trust in the process and pause while engaging in a conflict, the benefits are likely to be tremendous. Self-reflection is the process of stepping back to observe your own thoughts and feelings. It helps us slow down and consider what we actually want to accomplish through any confrontation. In many cases it may allow us to see a possibility for resolution where we did not see one before.
One of the most valuable benefits associated with reflection is the increased capability to understand others’ thoughts and feelings. By taking the time to reflect, we are more likely to make some space within ourselves for understanding the actions, behaviors, and viewpoints of the other. Such an act of mindfulness and respect is likely to discourage those regrettable conflict behaviors we brought up earlier as well as make an opening for understanding the other in conflict. Reflection is not about judging yourself for feeling intensely, or giving up on communicating about something that is important to you. It’s about becoming present and aware enough to decide with intention how you want to do that.
James R. Bailey and Scheherazade Rehman suggest keeping a journal for regular self-reflection, which can enhance understanding during times of conflict. They recommend writing down thoughts and even physical feelings associated with the situation. Try to determine why things took a downturn, and be specific. Then, spend some time revisiting the journal entry and reflecting on how you can improve your reactions, words and behaviors next time. Finally, add to your entry with a fresh perspective, operating as a neutral observer. What have you learned that can prevent such an incident from occurring in the future?
For reflection that precedes an interaction, you may want to take some time to reflect alone, or have a conversation with a third party. During a dialogue or interaction you may notice things are escalating, and ask to take a pause. Activities like going for a walk, writing (as mentioned above), or just temporarily ceasing to communicate and embracing silence can help keep conflicts from taking on a life of their own.
When it appears that a conflict or dialogue has ended, you may feel that it has been resolved. However, further deliberate reflection can help solidify closure and help you fully process what took place. Being a reflective individual means regularly engaging in this kind of inquiry. It can also help you draw out invaluable insights for the future.
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.