Sometimes communication can feel like the hardest thing in the world. When we’re in the middle of a fight with our significant other, when we’re in a rough spot with our boss or coworker, when we get into an argument with our kids or a friend, it can feel like everything is crashing down around us.
In those moments, we stop seeing the person on the other end of the dialogue as someone we trust, love, or respect. Instead, it almost seems like they’ve become some distorted version of the person we thought they were – and it makes us question everything:
“Who is person?”
“Why is he or she acting this way?
“Is this really the person I chose to spend my time with?”
Does it seem at all crazy to you that a months-, years-, or even decades-long interpersonal relationship can be called into question in just one moment of conflict? Do you ever wonder why it’s so easy to feel like you don’t know the other person at all in that moment?
It may seem crazy, but there is one very logical reason this happens. When we enter into a conflict with someone we know and trust, in that moment (no matter how fleeting it may be), the connection is broken.
It All Begins with Connection
In our interpersonal relationships, connection is everything. When we meet someone, we begin to form trust because of the commonalities we find. These are the ties that begin to bind us. It doesn’t matter if the commonalities are superficial (work, hobbies, location) or if they’re deeper (value system, worldview, etc). All that matters is that we see something in that person that we understand, that we recognize. And that’s how a bond forms.
But when we fight (or argue or disagree), we forget about all of those commonalities. Suddenly, that person becomes an other. The ties that bind us seem weaker, the space that lies between us seems larger. At that moment, we call the strength of our connection into question, and from there we start to call everything into question.
“I knew we always agreed on …, but now I’m not so sure.”
“From the beginning, we’ve had … in common, but maybe that’s not enough.”
“I just don’t know if he/she is the same person thought he/she was.”
This questioning is a perfectly natural thing to go through. In moments of conflict, we wonder if our initial perception of that person was correct, so we reassess to be sure that the connection is strong enough to withstand the conflict.
Sometimes this happens and we learn that the relationship isn’t (or shouldn’t be) able to withstand the conflict. But in the times when we really want it to work, the only way to get back to good is to remember something we have in common, something that connects us. And guess what, it’s not all that hard to do.
We’re All Just People
At the end of the day, we have one very important thing in common: we’re all just people.
We’re all just people. We all want to be heard. We all want to be understood. And if you can remember that, there’s practically no communication mishap that you can’t work your way through.
If your child is acting up, remember that it likely stems from a place of desiring to be noticed. Your child may be struggling with how to communicate his or her needs with you.
If you and your spouse are arguing, remember that you both decided you want the same thing (to be together). But you also both want to be heard and valued as individuals.
If you and a friend are having a disagreement, consider the idea that there might be something you could be doing to understand him or her better.
If you and a coworker or boss are fighting, remember that you all want your company to succeed, but that you may have differing views on what that looks like.
When we’re in conflict, we feel miles apart from the person on the other end. But that’s so rarely the case – because, no matter what, we just want to have a voice. We want our point of view to be considered. We want to feel valued, and truly listening to someone is showing that person that we value them.
No matter who you’re communicating with, the most important concept to remember is that we’re all just people. Start with that and the connection will follow.
How This Concept Works in Any Situation
This communication concept isn’t just helpful in times of conflict, it works in any situation.
Let’s say there’s someone in your world you’d like to connect with who intimidates you. Remember that he or she is just a person.
Let’s say you feel like your teen has turned into a hormonally-driven alien. Remember that he or she is just a person.
Let’s say a friend of yours is acting cold or standoffish. Remember that he or she is just a person.
It can be easier said than done to remember that the person who intimidates us or suddenly has a raging temper or is closed-off is just someone who desires to be understood. If you’re having a hard time bridging that gap, go ahead and fire up your brain’s empathy circuitry.
Your empathy circuitry will help you build the bridge you need to cross the chasm between you and the other person. Empathy is the greatest tool to use when you need to remind yourself that we are all just people.
Empathy Circuitry to the Rescue
We all have internal struggles to work through – and we’re not always good at communicating what they are to others. So there are times when we don’t act our best, or we don’t know how to express our feelings, or we simply feel isolated and lost. In those moments, our behavior could make us act in ways that don’t make sense to the people in our lives. All of a sudden, we may be the ones who suddenly seem different. How would you feel if the person on the other end wrote you off because of that?
Even in the most divided of moments, you need to give the other person a chance to communicate with you. Don’t worry so much about the space that lies between you – remember the ties that bind you: your humanity.
The people in our lives aren’t always going to communicate the way we would. They’re not always going to approach a situation the way we would. And that’s not only okay, it can be a really good thing. These differences can actually help our relationships, making them brighter and more vivid. They may even teach us a thing or two. They’re not things to worry about in moments of conflict, but rather something to appreciate all the time.
Your empathy circuitry can help you with this. When you remember the platinum rule (treat people as they would like to be treated), then you can walk in the other person’s shoes and show them the attention and understanding they deserve. And, even though the moment started with opposing points of view, you might realize your end goals aren’t that different.
We’re all just people – and every one of us wants to be heard and understood. Remember that one simple communication principle, and stronger connections will follow.