Donna Kim-Brand

Avoiding Hairy-Scary Holiday Conflicts, part 2

Secondly, you take a stance of ‘Assumed Positive Intent’ from the other person or situation. What this means is, rather than leaping defensively to putting your dukes up and fighting back meanly when someone says something you could take as an insult or criticism, you assume they actually meant something nicer, or at least benign. Since our thoughts and feelings influence our behavior, we will behave better ourselves when we don’t let another person’s words or actions provoke us in emotional fashion. Now, rather than a cat fight (or worse), you have a space for asking questions for clarification.

Recently I had an early flight, and inquired whether my very nice neighbor might be able to drop me at the airport on his way to work, knowing he left around 6am. When I texted sheeplishly that I’d have to leave by 5:45 am, and was that not too early, his texted response was, “Huh”. My first interpretation was that he’d meant “Huh” as in, “Huh?! are you kidding me?” and interpreted that as a NO.

Embarrassed to have even asked, I called to book a taxi. Next morning at 5:15 I got his text, “I’ll be ready on time to take you.” So I quickly cancelled the taxi. When he arrived I said I thought from his reply he’d found the time too early. And he said, “No, it was just a way to register the time in my mind so I’d be ready.” I was the one who had read other things into his reply and behaved accordingly. If I’d only clarified what he meant, knowing he was always good-hearted, I wouldn’t have felt so bad nor would I have called for and then had to cancel a taxi.

In situations of potential misunderstanding, here are some questions to pose so you can hopefully avoid hurt feelings or a nasty conflict. “So, what is it you are requesting of me?” Or, “Excuse me, can you please clarify what is it you want me to do or stop doing?” (By the way, shouting back, “What do you want from me!?” is NOT the approach I mean!) The ball is back in their court to be specific about what they want from you. Many times they can’t even tell you. In this case, no matter how you would respond, they would not be satisfied, which is why the conflict keeps escalating. You are also in a position to respond either with agreement to do what they ask if you can, explain why you can’t or won’t, or offer another suggestion. Now you are talking about specifics of actions which can be addressed, rather than wandering around the fuzzy area of feelings and emotions which are experienced by each person differently and are rarely satisfied in this type of conflict.

Ultimately, what you are steering towards is an outcome of the conflict that leaves satisfaction for as many of you as possible under the circumstances. So it pays to remember what you are actually squabbling about, within the context of the situation.

I recently witnessed two tree ornament shoppers looking for the same letter of the alphabet. One woman was obviously trying to snatch the first ‘J’ she found for herself, when the other woman asked her who she wanted the ornament for. For her daughter whose newborn child was having his first Christmas, she said. So when the second woman found the letter ‘J’ first, she handed it to the scrappy shopper and said, “This must be really meaningful for your daughter. Here, you take it.” I had to smile, recognizing that the second woman acted in the spirit of love and kindness of the season and why they were both looking for the ornament in the first place, which hopefully passed onto the first. It certainly touched me.

You, too, can have that kind of positive ripple effect on your environment when you ‘keep your powder dry’, and use your power of choice and interpreting from a position of Assumed Positive Intent, rather than ‘hairy-scary’. And that’s the true spirit of the season. Happy Holidays to you!

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