This is part two of our “Navigating Difficult Conversations” series. For part one, please click here.

Personalities differ amongst us all, and it is inevitable that we will find ourselves at odds with another person from time to time. Often, this is due to an inherent difference in core beliefs; conflicts are just more likely to arise when we pursue relationships with people whose beliefs and morals differ from ours. Sometimes the best-case scenario for both parties is to minimize contact with each other, but this is easier said than done. Connecting with our Higher Selves will help us to identify the reasons why we may have repeated conflict with a person, and the ways we can navigate that conflict through understanding their personality and any potential experiences that may have shaped their opinions and way of communication. 

There are people that are especially sensitive to words, and it’s important to be mindful of this personality trait if you will be engaging with such a person regarding conflict or a difficult topic. One way to remain mindful is to gauge the conversation as it moves along. If you say something and then observe an adverse reaction from the other person, pause and ask them if what you have said has upset them. Often, we fail to see any issues in what we have said and feel that the other person is overreacting. But we are all entitled to our own interpretations, and just because we meant our words one way doesn’t mean that if they are interpreted differently, that interpretation is “wrong”, especially if we did not make an effort to speak plainly. 

While some people will have reactions based on sensitivity, others will be difficult to converse with because they enjoy arguing (though they may not realize it). We can all think of someone whom we’ve met that fits this criterion! Though we can employ tools to navigate conversations with these types of people, this behavior is difficult to change. When speaking to someone who enjoys inciting conflict or “stirring the pot,” it’s best to keep the conversation short and as clear as possible to avoid any opportunity for misunderstanding or misinterpretation. There will be times when the best course of action is not to engage at all, no matter how important the conflict is or how much you disagree. We must pick our battles, after all, and arguing for the sake of arguing is rarely worth it.

Can you think of a person or people in your life that you have a difficult time speaking to? Do you dread talking to them because of the way they react? We can reframe these situations to be learning opportunities for ourselves, encouraging us to work on our own speech styles to become better and more effective communicators. The following exercise, adapted from Higher Self Yoga, Book 1, will help you to connect with your inner Wise Mind and determine if there is anything you can do to improve the situation with the people you have difficulty speaking with.

List the five people in your life you know are difficult to talk to. They are either overly sensitive or respond negatively to your words. Then take each name and ask your Higher Self:

  • Is there something I do that makes this person react to me this way?
  • After each name, write the manner in which you speak to this person. For example, your spouse: You may notice that sometimes you speak to him/her in a loving manner, and often you become irritated and speak in an accusatory manner, etc.
  • Next, identify the behavior in another person or the conditions that cause you to respond in either a positive or negative manner. Write down what you observe.
  • Then ask your Higher Self:
  • Do others have the same problem with this person?
  • What is the best way in which to deal with this person?
  • Is there something in this person’s behavior that causes me to respond in a negative way when others do not?

Dealing with difficult family members

If you happen to find yourself pulled into a family quarrel, remain impartial. Refrain from taking sides as much as possible and if you find that you simply can’t, remove yourself from the conversation entirely. If you choose to stay, remember that you don’t necessarily need to intervene but to act as the mediator, listening to each person in turn and giving each party the opportunity to express themselves. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be a catch 22 because remaining impartial and not emotionally attached can be misconstrued by either party as taking the other person’s side. In truth, it’s the best way for you to remain present and grounded in the facts of the disagreement, not the feelings.

There are some families that have particularly difficult dynamics, often rooted in generations of discord and improperly resolved conflict. If you feel that you are a member of such a family (if you think you are than your intuition is probably correct), you can be the person to facilitate change – you don’t need to remain stuck just because this is the way it’s always been. Practice remaining conscious of your words, and when engaging with your family, speak warmly and intentionally no matter the reaction you receive. This change of tone will likely be met with surprise if speech patterns have always reflected anger, frustration, and discord. It might take some adjusting, but over time, you might find that other family members adopt the same practice.

Inevitably, there will be times where you feel as if you must engage in family conflict. If this is the case, the first and foremost thing you should do is to try and diffuse the situation. Asking a neutral third party (particularly a non-family member who has not been impacted by the situation) to mediate the conversation is a good start. If the conflict is one that has been addressed many times with no resolution, yet you and/or the other party feels as if it must be discussed, then it’s best to say as little as possible to avoid rehashing old arguments and opening wounds. Some people are unable to let go and consider another viewpoint, and in those situations, it’s best to accept the disagreement for what it is and either ignore it or move on from it.

We should do our best to try and not repeat negative and dysfunctional family patterns. Below is an exercise, adapted from Higher Self Yoga, Book 1, to help you identify these patterns and their origins. 

Make a list of the patterns (words and tones of words) that come from your family:

  • With each pattern, ask yourself, Do I play out the pattern with other people?

Then ask your Higher Self:

  • How can I change this pattern? What is my first step?
  • Does this pattern come from past lives?
  • If so, is it important for me to know the past life?

Remaining open to the outcome

No matter the conversation or the person, it’s important to let go of any attachments you may have to the outcome of the conversation. While this is difficult to do as emotional beings, it is to our benefit. The unhealthy connections we may have with some people can propel us to remain in close relationships with them, even when it’s in the best interest of both parties to reduce contact or part ways. By remaining open to all possibilities, we free our hearts to communicate with us that we may no longer have anything in common with this person, or that remaining in such a relationship will be detrimental to our health and wellbeing. We should strive to look past our emotions to see the relationship for what it is in the here and now, not what it once was or might have been.

If you find it difficult to do so, ask yourself the following questions, adapted from Higher Self Yoga, Book 1:

  1. How is this relationship benefitting me?
  2. Is this relationship making me happy?
  3. Do I need to remain in this relationship?
  4. What does it do for me?
  5. How would I feel if I ended it?
  6. Do I know if there is old karma here that is being repeated?
  7. Do I feel I can change the relationship?
  8. If so, why would I want to?
  9. What would the relationship bring me if I changed?
  10. What changes do I have to make in order for the relationship to be better?
  11. Am I willing to make these changes?
  12. Are they realistic?

By answering these questions, you should gain clarity regarding how the relationship is either benefitting or not benefiting you, and how you should proceed. If after completing this exercise you find that there are drawbacks to the relationships, but connecting with your Higher Self reveals to you that the relationship is still worth pursuing, proceed cautiously. Reevaluate the relationship dynamics and see what old patterns need to be brought to light in order to be shed.

Unfortunately, there are some relationships where the benefits do not outweigh the drawbacks, no matter how great they are, and contact needs to cease. Situations that include abuse of any kind, including coercion, mistrust, manipulation, and physical harm, should be ended. If you find yourself in a relationship like this, the best-case scenario is to remove yourself from it, no matter how difficult. Seek professional help and the support of others to help you do so.

Stay tuned for part three in this series, “Navigating Difficult Conversations with the Help of the Higher Self: Tips for Mindfulness.”